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Hurricanes may face tough decisions for Qualifiers at goalie, defenseman

Expect Mrazek, Reimer to be healthy, could have Hamilton, Pesce, Vatanen available

by Dan Rosen @drosennhl / NHL.com Senior Writer

The Carolina Hurricanes may have challenging decisions to make before the Stanley Cup Qualifiers because their roster will be arguably deeper than it was at any point in the regular season.

Coach Rod Brind'Amour said it's not clear who will be the Hurricanes' starting goalie in Game 1 of their best-of-5 series against the New York Rangers.

Petr Mrazek and James Reimer are both expected to be available, unlike when the season was paused March 12 because of concerns surrounding the coronavirus. Reimer, who started 24 games and was 14-6-2 with a 2.66 goals-against average and a .914 save percentage, missed Carolina's last seven games with a lower-body injury. Mrazek, who started 38 games and went 21-16-2 with a 2.69 GAA and a .905 save percentage, returned March 10 after missing six games with a concussion.

"It's easy to say right now, 'OK, I'm going to go with Petr,' but I don't know," Brind'Amour said in a recent interview. "He may be in rough shape. I don't know until I get to see them and see what they're like."

Brind'Amour also isn't clear on what the defenseman group will look like, especially the pairs, because the Hurricanes could have nine players for six spots, something that wasn't remotely possible when the season was paused.

"I don't know because we haven't seen these guys together," Brind'Amour said.

Video: NYR@CAR: Mrazek extends his glove to stone Zibanejad

The Hurricanes acquired Brady Skjei (from the Rangers) and Sami Vatanen (from the New Jersey Devils) prior to the 2020 NHL Trade Deadline on Feb. 24 because they didn't expect to have defensemen Dougie Hamilton (fractured left fibula) or Brett Pesce (right shoulder surgery) available the rest of the season.

Hamilton, who has been out indefinitely after having surgery Jan. 17, is expected to be back when training camp opens; camps are scheduled to begin July 10 under Phase 3 of the NHL Return to Play Plan provided that medical and safety conditions allow, and the parties have reached an agreement on resuming play. The length of training camp, and the start date and two hub cities for the resumption of play in Phase 4 -- one city for the 12 participating Eastern Conference teams, and one for the 12 Western Conference teams -- will be determined.

Hamilton led Carolina defensemen with 40 points (14 goals, 26 assists) in 47 games.

Brind'Amour said Pesce, who was expected to miss 4-6 months after his surgery in early March, has a chance to return too.

"It's going to be a long shot, but the longer this goes the shot gets a little shorter," Brind'Amour said.

Vatanen had a right leg injury when Carolina acquired him. He never got into a game or even a practice, but he's expected to be ready when camp opens. Skjei played in seven games with the Hurricanes.

Carolina also has Jaccob Slavin, Jake Gardiner, Trevor van Riemsdyk, Joel Edmundson and Haydn Fleury.

"There's going to be definitely a feeling-out process to see how everyone meshes, but those are pretty good options to be thrown into your team," Brind'Amour said. "There's going to be good competition. If everybody is healthy then we have extras, so I think it's going to be a question of really, how do they look by the time this camp is done? It's not like you get too long of a warmup period. When we start every game counts, so we've got to go with whoever is ready. That's something we'll figure out."

The Hurricanes (38-25-5, .596 points percentage) are the No. 6 seed in the East under the 24-team Return to Play Plan. The Rangers (37-28-5, .564) are the No. 11 seed. The winner of the series will advance to the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

"In all aspects of when we get started it's going to be interesting to tell because we don't know where our guys are at," Brind'Amour said. "It's different. It's not like we just picked up where we left off. I know guys are telling me they're doing OK, but I don't know how much training they're doing and where they're going to be at when we get started."

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