After a quiet week in Raleigh while the Canes had all gone their separate ways for the All-Star break, the team was back into it at full speed on Monday.
Coach Paul Maurice said he was surprised at the energy and crispness of today’s afternoon practice. It even ran a little longer than planned, prompting everyone to rush off the ice and to the airport to make their scheduled flight to New York just an hour later.
Still wary of the way his team played in Atlanta after a much shorter Christmas break, the head coach used the extra time today to make sure they would come out for Tuesday night’s road game against the Rangers with the same intensity they showed in winning their two most recent games.
”It’s a real important step to get the guys back to feeling good, and we had good jump today,” said Maurice. “I don’t know if it’s a good sign or not, but it was far sharper and quicker than you would expect after having five days off.”
Part of that may be due to the renewed focus that comes after the All-Star break, which is the unofficial beginning of the playoff run for all but a few teams that have a firm hold on a postseason berth or are in too big of a hole to have much urgency.
“After a five-day break like that, coming back we know this is grind-time,” said defenseman Tim Gleason. “This is the best part of the year, and I think a lot of guys are glad to be back, excited to be back and more mentally focused than we were going into the break. It’s a long year, but this is the most exciting time of the year and we’re ready for it.”
The Canes made a nice run after the break last year with a record of 19-9-2. Although they’re a little better-positioned now than they were going into that stretch drive, anything much short of that this time around could end with the same result.
With so much on the line, Maurice said one of his biggest challenges will be managing the team mentally and making sure they don’t become exhausted with the pressure that comes with each contest.
“Every win will be euphoric and then every loss will be devastating,” he said. “Probably what’s going to happen here is that one team is going to make it by a point and then obviously one team is going to miss it by a point. I think we can assume that the emotions of the team that makes it will be more consistent and upbeat.”
Maurice cited health as one of the most important factors that determine which teams will make the playoffs. Fortunately, the Canes have a lot of it right now. Aside from Eric Staal, who went straight to New York from the All-Star game in Montreal, only Niclas Wallin missed today’s practice. He will not play tomorrow night, but is day-to-day beyond that.
For more on the Rangers game, check out today's abbreviated episode of The Hurricanes Report. We're planning to record another one on Wednesday.