GREENBURGH, NY — It was nearly 20 years ago when Rod Brind’Amour stepped off the ice at Joe Louis Arena after watching the Detroit Red Wings celebrate winning the Stanley Cup at his expense.
Brind’Amour, then a player with the Carolina Hurricanes and now their coach, has vivid memories of how he felt that night of June 13, 2002, how at 31 years old and a 13-year NHL veteran, he thought he might never get another opportunity like the one he just had.
“I was sitting there going ‘Oh wow, maybe that was it right there,'” Brind’Amour said Tuesday. “I was getting older by then. Luckily it wasn’t that, but you never know. It’s not an easy road, winning the Stanley Cup. Everyone knows that.”
The Hurricanes certainly do. They’re in the Eastern Conference second round for the third time in the last four seasons, preparing to play Game 1 against the New York Rangers at the PNC Arena on Wednesday (7 p.m. ET; ESPN, SNE, SNO , SNP, VATS) .
[RELATED: Complete Hurricanes vs. Rangers series coverage]
They have eight players who have been part of each round: the forwards Sebastien Aho, Teuvo Teravainen, Jordan Staal, Nino Niederreiter, Andrei Svechnikov and Jordan Martinookand the defenders Jacob Slavin and Brett Pesce.
But the Hurricanes have come out of the second round once, in 2019, when they were swept in the Eastern Conference Finals by the Boston Bruins.
They lost to the Tampa Bay Lightning in five games last season. Twelve players who played for Carolina in the playoffs last season are expected to be in the Game 1 roster against New York. Martinook would make 13 but is out with a lower-body injury.
The pressure is high because the opportunities do not arise every year.
Carolina won the Stanley Cup with Brind’Amour as captain in 2006 and did not return to the playoffs until 2009, which preceded a nine-season gap between playoff appearances.
“The older you get, the more important it is,” Brind’Amour said. “You try to impose this urgency on the players, but don’t take it for granted. We’ve talked about it all year. Nobody knows what tomorrow has in store for us.”
The feeling around Rangers is different.
Surely they know the opportunity is coming their way now, the first time since 2017 they have reached the second round. But they don’t feel the weight of what lies ahead because, unlike the Hurricanes, they don’t know how heavy it is.
“As for the pressure, I don’t think we feel it in our dressing rooms,” striker Tyler Motte mentioned.
Said defender K’Andre Miller“I don’t think there’s really any pressure.”
Rather, the Rangers are feeling the thrill of coming back from 3-1 up against the Pittsburgh Penguins to win the Eastern Conference First Round in seven games. They want to take that vibe from a 4-3 overtime win in Game 7 on Sunday to Game 1 against Carolina.
“Experience was something that we talked about a bit on our team; I think we showed people what we could do and showed that it didn’t really matter in the end,” Miller said. . “After a 3-1 run against a really good Pittsburgh team with that experience and those top guys in [Sidney] Croby, [Evgeni] Malkin and [Kris] Letang, I think our confidence is where it needs to be right now.”
He never wavered, coach Gerard Gallant said, after their 52 wins, 110 points and .671 point percentage all ranked in the top eight during the regular season.
“I really believe every team has a chance to win when we start the playoffs,” Gallant said. “I still believe that. We’re going to have to play really well against Carolina, but I really believe we have a chance to win.
“I think we are a good team. It doesn’t matter if we play at home or on the road, I think we are a good team. When we play our game for 60 minutes, we have a real chance to win every game. “
This will also be Gallant’s message to the Rangers. Simple and straightforward. He said he wasn’t one to give rah-rah speeches because he didn’t want to add more to the first game than he would with any other game.
“I’m doing the same thing as the regular season opener,” Gallant said. “I don’t value this game more than the others. The players have enough pressure. We are trying to relieve them. Go play your game and have fun. We are preparing in the same way.”
The Hurricanes will try to do the same thing, except it’s a little different on their side since it’s their third opportunity with Brind’Amour as coach and the basics in place.
No one knows if there will be a fourth. No one at Rangers cares.
NHL.com Freelance Correspondent Kurt Dusterberg contributed to this story