The question of when the Carolina Hurricanes would host their first playoff game existed even before the team wrapped up its regular season in Nashville. The Canes had, after all, clinched their first division title since 2005-06 with still two games left to play.
Monday, May 17, was the rumor as early as when the Canes departed Nashville after regular-season game 56 of 56 on Monday night.
Tuesday was an off day, but when the team arrived at Wake Competition Center for an off-ice workout on Wednesday, there still wasn't a concrete answer.
On Thursday morning, as the team walked into the locker room a couple hours prior to practice, the white board read "Game 1 is 8 p.m. on Monday."
It's not that the unknown affected the Canes' preparation for the First Round of the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs at all. The team had a plan going into this week, and extra time - whether that's practice time for a team looking to ramp up energy or rest time for a couple of bruised bodies - isn't a bad thing. But, having dates and times lined up now gives the Canes a target at which to take aim.
2021 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFFS
It all starts Monday, and everything between now and then is designed for the Canes to be at peak performance when the puck drops in Game 1.
"We've got to be positive about what we have ahead of us. It's a chance to reset and get everything back, the sore spots that we try to fix off and on the ice. It's nice to be able to have some time to do that," Dougie Hamilton said. "We have to do our best to take advantage of that."
Video: "We have to be positive with what we have ahead."
In the week between games, the Canes want to fine tune the details of their game on the ice. Breakouts. Neutral zone. Forecheck. Backcheck. Power play. Penalty kill. A mini training camp, in a sense.
"We'll practice hard," head coach Rod Brind'Amour said on Wednesday. "We accomplished the one part, which was get to this level where we get the chance to compete for the championship. Now we've got to ramp it up to go get it."
Off the ice, it's an opportunity for the Canes to get healthy. Jaccob Slavin is nursing a lower-body injury and did not practice on Thursday, but the Canes are hopeful to have him back in the lineup for Game 1. The same goes for Cedric Paquette, who missed the last six games of the season with a lower-body injury and also didn't practice on Thursday.
Video: "You're starting all over at this point."
Brind'Amour said on Wednesday he was "fairly" confident the Canes would have a full complement of players by Game 1, and on Thursday, "Nothing has changed, really," Brind'Amour said.
Brock McGinn, who missed the last 19 games of the season with a upper-body injury, skated on a line with Steven Lorentz and Jordan Martinook on Thursday. Martinook returned to the lineup in the last game of the regular season after being sidelined for a few weeks with a lower-body injury.
"It was good to get in there. Obviously, I wish the results were better, but even just to get the confidence under my belt was good," he said. "You get reenergized by this time of year. It's so much fun to play in these games, especially when you've seen both sides of it. … I'm pumped to get going."
Video: "You get re-energized this time of the year."
Pumped to get going is pretty much the emotion level right now, even if Game 1 is beyond weekend horizon. The Canes worked and battled to get to this point, and now they're 16 wins away from accomplishing their ultimate goal.
The journey has just begun, and the preparation the Canes put in this week is what will guide them further in the next two months.
"It's been a long, hard - well, it hasn't been that long, but it feels like it - journey to get to this stage. We didn't start the season saying we want to make playoffs, but you have to make playoffs to have a chance to win the whole thing. We're here … and we're starting over," Brind'Amour said. "In a way, it's kind of nice to have a little break in there because it really emphasizes that it's two different things. That's done and over with, and now we're starting fresh. We've got to get that energy level back up, and I think a little break will actually help."
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