TORONTO - Wednesday's match-up between the Carolina Hurricanes and Washington Capitals (4 p.m., FOX Sports Carolinas) is billed as an exhibition contest, but it should be anything but.
While the result is inconsequential, the process is vitally important.
The game is the dress rehearsal, the final tune-up before the best-of-five Stanley Cup Qualifiers begin this weekend.
If there's ever an opportunity to get game-ready, it's Wednesday's exhibition.
"I'm pretty excited. It's been a while since we last played," Sebastian Aho said. "Right away, it's playoff time."
"We need to see how our guys are playing and more the meshing of everything and how we grasp our game plan," head coach Rod Brind'Amour said. "That's what I'm looking for."
Video: "I think this game will tell us a lot."
There was training camp, but it wasn't really training camp; it was a crash-course refresher in where the team left off four months ago. Now, there's an exhibition game, but it's not really an exhibition game; it's go-time, the game before a shortened postseason series in which winning the first game is fairly critical.
"It will be a little different," Brind'Amour said of a best-of-five series. "The intensity of it, the importance of that first game and the second game, it just ramps up that much more. Other than that, I don't know really how different it is. You approach every game in the playoffs to win."
That will be the approach the Canes take for the exhibition game, as well, and why not?
"It definitely has a little bit of a different feel to it, just knowing you have to get into it really quick mentally," Jaccob Slavin said. "Normally, a regular preseason you have four or five games that you can kind of get up to speed. Now, we're just straight to playoffs, straight to the real deal."
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The Canes have been practicing for upwards of two weeks. They've covered what they set out to cover. They've upped the intensity and physicality with small-space battle drills. They've loosely scrimmaged. But, there's still nothing quite like a game and throwing that first body check.
"We haven't really done much contact. Yes, we're playing hard against each other, but it's a huge difference when you get hit," Justin Williams said on Monday. "I'm going to throw a few hits that probably aren't going to hurt anybody, and I'm going to take some hits as well. I don't think we're going to be diving in front of Ovechkin's shot to block it, but we're going to be out there playing hard, getting ourselves as close to ready as we can get."
And then there is the adjustment to playing in an arena with no fans, something the Canes have been mindfully preparing for since the outset of camp.
"Roddy has done a pretty good job of making sure we're in the right headspace, especially playing in front of no fans. It's going to be different. The atmosphere is going to be extremely different. We have to, as a team on the bench and on the ice, create that atmosphere, making sure we're being involved in the game," Slavin said. "Whatever it is, we're going to have to get involved on the ice and on the bench."
Video: "It's been a while since we last played."
Expanded rosters introduce a new wrinkle to the exhibition matches. Teams can dress 13 forwards and seven defensemen, which affords coaching staffs an additional evaluation tool, a chance to analyze how certain players respond to or match up in game action.
"We kind of built up this whole camp knowing we had this game. I don't want to say there's a lot riding on the game, but there's a lot riding on who's going to play in games after that," Brind'Amour said. "I can guarantee it won't matter to some people how they play; they're going to be playing following that. But, there are still a lot of questions for us as far as the lineup going forward. I think this game will tell us a lot."
Roster decisions remain for the Canes' blue line. Dougie Hamilton won't play in the exhibition game, and even if he can't go in Game 1 of the Qualifiers, who will sit? A lineup with seven defensemen gives players like Trevor van Riemsdyk and Haydn Fleury a prime opportunity to state their cases.
Martin Necas has yet to practice in Toronto - he left Saturday's skate in Raleigh with a minor injury concern - and is doubtful for Wednesday's exhibition, as well.
The Canes plan to use both Petr Mrazek and James Reimer in Wednesday's exhibition, but Brind'Amour stopped short of naming a starter.
The stage is set - literally, in that the NHL has created a made-for-TV set design at Scotiabank Arena. All that's left to do is drop the puck.
"The guys want to play now. They're done practicing," Brind'Amour said. "This is a perfect time to get this rolling, and I'm excited to see what we bring."