RALEIGH — The Hurricanes and Rangers begin their second round series Wednesday at PNC Arena, where Carolina was 29-8-4 during the regular season and is 4-0 this postseason. The Hurricanes have won six straight at home, with their last loss in Raleigh coming more than a month ago on April 14 to the Red Wings.
1. Following the Hurricanes’ series win over the Bruins, Carolina coach Rod Brind’Amour, when asked about the Jordan Staal’s value to his team and how the captain is overlooked as one of the NHL’s top defensive forwards, mentioned that the Selke Trophy — given annually to the best in that category — could be renamed for Boston’s Patrice Bergeron.
Before Wednesday’s Game 1 against the Rangers, Brind’Amour was at again rebranding awards. This time, it was for one of his own.
“You could name it after him and everyone would get it,” Brind’Amour said when asked about defenseman Jaccob Slavin being named a finalist for the Lady Byng Trophy for gentlemanly play, an award he won last season. “He plays the right way and does it at a high level.”
Not only does Slavin check the box of having very few penalty minutes each season — he had 10 this year and just 70 for his career through 508 regular season games — but he is also clean as a whistle.
Post-whistle scrums? Slavin might be there, but he’s always a peacemaker. Dirty plays or hits? Slavin has as clean a record of anyone in the NHL. Trash talk? Never.
“For me, that’s a character award,” Slavin said. “That’s who I want to be as a person, using my game of hockey to glorify God and how I carry myself on and off the ice, and so it’s definitely an honor.”
The pious Slavin has long said his faith, not hockey, is his priority, and no one walks the walk quite like No. 74.
2. Fellow Hurricanes defenseman Brendan Smith compared Slavin to one of his former Detroit teammates.
“I’ve gotten to play with some great players like Nick Lidstrom and stuff, and now I’m kind of comparing some similarities,” Smith said. “And (Slavin’s) gonna be happy with me saying that, but there is some of those things that I see.
“He brings it every day, and that’s what I like. Every practice he’s competing, and I think that highly competitive nature is why you become elite like he is.”
Slavin is considered by many the best defensive defenseman in the league, but his offense is often overlooked. No, he didn’t 70 or 80 points like Roman Josi or Cale Makar, but he did have a career-high 42 points, only eight of which came on the power play.
And as Smith said, Slavin usually isn’t looking for offense, especially if it could leave his team vulnerable defensively.
“He’s got this offensive ability that we don’t talk about as much because he’s so good defensively,” Smith said. “And there’s a lot that he does offensively and I think he chooses and picks his positions well, when to jump up and when to make plays. And some D-men will maybe flourish more just because they put more into their offensive ability. I think he does it the opposite way where he takes care of the defensive side, and if you’re a goalie you’re happy to have him.”
3. One of the players Slavin will be tasked with slowing down is Chris Kreider, the Rangers winger who exploded for 52 goals this season. His league-leading 26 power play goals were two shy of his previous season high of 28 goals in all situations.
“They talk about noticing a guy every shift, that’s definitely a guy when he’s on the ice you’re like, ‘Oh, there he is,’” Brind’Amour said. “That he’s cashing in this year, I don’t know. I think he’s been a great player for a long time.”
Kreider is up there with Dallas’ Joe Pavelski as one of the best net-front players in the league, so it will be crucial for Carolina to mark him, especially on the power play.
“He’s a big, big body in front of the net, but he’s also really quick,” said Hurricanes goalie Antti Raanta, who was teammates with Kreider in New York. “He has great hand-eye coordination. It’s gonna be a battle against that guy in front of the net. … (We have to) make sure that we get the stick and play the body. It’s gonna be a big challenge.”
4. Raanta, Skjei and Smith are three of the six players on the Hurricanes’ roster who previously played with the Rangers.
“I’m excited,” said Jesper Fast, who is in his second season with Carolina after playing his first seven years in the league with New York. “It’s the most fun time of the year and, of course, a little special feeling playing (the Rangers).”
Defenseman Tony DeAngelo brushed aside any animosity he might have toward the Rangers, who bought him out after last season following a “final straw” confrontation with backup goalie Alexander Georgiev.
“I could care less who we play,” DeAngelo said. “We’ve just got to worry about what we do here.”
DeAngelo figures to be Public Enemy No. 1 to the New York fans — like he was in Round 1 against Boston — once the series shifts to Madison Square Garden on Sunday, but the defenseman isn’t concerned about hearing boos from his former fans.
“It doesn’t matter who boos me,” he said. “Some people say it’s a compliment — doesn’t matter. They want to boo me, be my guest. What’re you, booing a player skating up the ice?”
Smith, who has solidified himself as the team’s No. 6 defenseman in the playoffs, signed with Carolina this offseason after five years with the Rangers.
“Obviously playing there and then having a couple of friends over there,” Smith said, “I think there’ll be that much more to get on the ice and make sure that you compete.”
5. Brind’Amour looks like he’ll be sticking with the same lineup he used in Game 7 against the Bruins, using Steven Lorentz on the fourth line. Derek Stepan and Ethan Bear will again both be healthy scratches, and Jordan Martinook continues to work toward getting back in the lineup after being hurt in Game 3 against Boston.
“I think he’s real close,” Brind’Amour said.
Injured goalie Frederik Andersen was the only player on the roster not on the ice during practice, though he is starting to see the ice a little bit away from the team practices.