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Gameday: Drop the Puck

by Michael Smith / Carolina Hurricanes
It’s (finally) time.

Michael Smith
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After a week’s worth of practice, the Carolina Hurricanes begin the 2013-14 regular season against the Detroit Red Wings, a new Eastern Conference opponent.

“It’s been a long, anxious week, and the guys are just excited to get started,” Jordan Staal said. “I’m sure there are a few nerves in the room, but that’s a good thing. Guys will be ready to play.”

Elias Lindholm, the team’s fifth overall pick in the 2013 NHL Draft, will make his NHL regular season debut, and he gets to do so against a team with eight Swedes on its roster. Lindholm, 18, said he golfed with Red Wings captain Henrik Zetterberg last summer.

“It’s cool to meet Detroit in the first game,” Lindholm said. “I’m excited, and it’s going to be fun.”

Lindholm said his parents will be at PNC Arena tonight to watch him make his debut. So, how are the nerves?

“Still a couple of hours left,” he said with a smile. “I’m going to be nervous in a couple of hours.”

Canes head coach Kirk Muller said he can relate to first-game jitters. He made his NHL regular season debut against the New York Islanders in 1984. In the five seasons prior, the Islanders captured four straight Stanley Cups and five straight conference championships.

“I know exactly what they’re thinking. You’ve got to just go out and play and have fun,” Muller said. “They’ll be nervous. First opening game like this, and they’re playing against some pretty mature guys over there.”

Detroit, now a member of the eight-team Atlantic Division, comes to Raleigh already having topped the Buffalo Sabres 2-1 on Wednesday night.

“They’ve been good for a very long time. We’re going to have to limit our mistakes,” Staal said. “If we play the way we can, I think we’ll be just fine.”

“We’re going to play a team tonight that we respect, and a team that’s not going to beat themselves. We’ve got to do the same as them,” Muller said. “We can’t go out and beat ourselves. We have to play a smart, disciplined game against these guys.”

The Canes had a trio of players return to good health this week, and they’ll all be in the lineup tonight. Lindholm will center the fourth line, Jeff Skinner will slot in on the third-line wing with Riley Nash and newly-signed Radek Dvorak and Alexander Semin will appear in his usual right-wing position on the first line. The lineup gives the Hurricanes four balanced lines of attack, something they’ll need against a deep Detroit squad.

This marks the first meeting between the two teams since March 24, 2012, a 5-4 win for the Wings in Detroit. Carolina holds a 3-2 record in the last five meetings between the two teams in Raleigh; the Wings and Canes last met in North Carolina on April 6, 2011, a 3-0 victory for Cam Ward (who made 42 saves) and the Hurricanes. Tonight marks the first time Carolina will face Detroit in their season opener.

As the clock ticks closer to puck drop in the 2013-14 regular season, Lindholm said the key to a successful debut is simple.

“I’ll try to play my game and have fun. That’s what’s most important: to have fun,” he said. “This is what you dream about, and now you’re here, so enjoy the moment and have fun.”

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