Category 5: Hurricanes look to ride momentum in Game 6

The Rangers lead the second round series 3-2

Hurricanes defenseman Tony DeAngelo and Rangers forward Matt Rempe exchange words during Monday’s Game 5 of their series in New York. (Adam Hunger / AP Photo)

RALEIGH — The Carolina Hurricanes will look to continue their improbable march toward a comeback in their series with the New York Rangers when they host Game 6 on Thursday at PNC Arena.

After dropping the first three games of the series, Carolina has won the last two and can now send the series back to New York for a winner-take-all Game 7 with a victory at home.

1. Hurricanes defenseman Brett Pesce returned to practice Wednesday, his first time on the ice with the full team since he was injured in Game 2 of Carolina’s first round series against the Islanders more than three weeks ago.

Pesce, however, will not play in Thursday’s Game 6. Brind’Amour also gave an update on forward Jesper Fast, who hasn’t played this postseason due to a neck injury suffered in the regular season finale in Columbus.

“He’s gonna get checked out again next week, but it’s not about playing anytime soon,” Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour said of Fast at Thursday morning’s media availability. “So it’s a tough one for him, and for us.”

Brind’Amour added he “couldn’t even put a timeline” on when Fast could return.

2. With Pesce still out, Tony DeAngelo remains on a defense pairing with Brady Skjei. It’s been a difficult season for DeAngelo, who returned to Carolina after a year in Philadelphia but was relegated to seventh defenseman duty.

Now he’s playing a regular shift and helping soften the blow of losing Pesce.

“It’s nice,” he said of being in the lineup. “The way the season has gone, kind of it is what it is. I’ve just got to be ready when I’m called upon, and I feel like I have. I’ve been just trying to keep going as much as I can.”

DeAngelo’s been known throughout his career as an elite offensive player who can be a liability in his own zone. He has just two assists in eight games this postseason, both in this series, but his underlying numbers are solid and he’s avoided defensive miscues.

According to, the Hurricanes have had more than 62% of the 5-on-5 shot attempts with the Skjei-DeAngelo pairing on the ice, and shot differential, expected goals and scoring chances are all in Carolina’s favor with the tandem out there. Brind’Amour and the coaching staff have sheltered the pair more than they normally would were it Skjei with Pesce, but it’s worked.

DeAngelo has been assessed only one giveaway all postseason — the fewest of the Hurricanes’ current six defensemen — and he’s taken only two penalties in the Rangers series.

3. The first five games of the series had an every-other-day schedule, but the teams had two days off before Thursday’s Game 6. Both practiced Wednesday but just had optional morning skates.

It could impact the game in a handful of ways.

First of all, Carolina has momentum after winning Games 4 and 5, but will it carry over, especially with an extra day off?

“It probably swings 50-50,” Rangers coach Peter Laviolette said Thursday morning. “From a team that has momentum and a team that has desperation, it’s probably 50-50. I don’t have the numbers on it. I’ve seen it go both ways.”

While the extra day of rest might be good for Hurricanes goalie Frederik Andersen, Brind’Amour still would have preferred to keep the schedule from the series’ first five games.

“Not really. I’d like to get these going,” Brind’Amour said when asked if he saw a benefit to the extra off day. “There’s little adjustments you have to make, obviously, but you’re not really practicing. It’s nice to just keep going.”

One group who will definitely feel the momentum shift is the PNC Arena crowd. Before Game 5, Hurricanes center Evgeny Kuznetsov said the Rangers would want to close out the series at home because “they don’t want to come back here. They know it’s going to be hell here.”

Brind’Amour expects the home crowd to bring the energy.

“Everybody knows this is a pretty loud building,” Brind’Amour said. “And there’s a lot in any type of the game, but obviously in a big game like this, I’m sure it’ll be very emotional.”

4. Jack Drury will play in his 24th career playoff game Thursday, but he’s looked like someone who has played 100 times in the postseason this series.

He can be seen encouraging teammates and chirping at opponents from the bench, he has an ongoing feud with linesmen after getting tossed from the faceoff circle countless times in this year’s playoffs, and his determined play shows up in places other than the score sheet.

Take Game 5, for example, when he blocked back-to-back shots by Rangers forward Jack Roslovic just as a New York power play expired. Roslovic tripped Dmitry Orlov seconds later to give Carolina a power play.

“His blocks on the penalty kill, that was humongous,” Hurricanes forward Jordan Martinook said after Game 5. “And I told him, I was like, ‘I’ll take you to the bench,’ and he didn’t want no part of that.”

Thursday morning, Drury simply said, “I was good enough to get off on my own.

Behind the clean-cut, well-spoken — he may have become the first hockey player to use the word “granular” in a press conference — Harvard product is a fiery competitor, one who got the ultimate compliment from his coach before Game 6.

“I think he’s the type of guy that just came in and has earned every inch of his ice, everything that’s going on with him right now,” Brind’Amour said. “An extremely hard worker, and he just does everything the way you ask him to do it, both on and off the ice. So he’s a perfect Hurricane, really.”

5. Laviolette said Thursday morning that both teams “have a really good feel” for what the opposition wants to do, and while both teams are making small tweaks to gain an edge. That said, he expects it to come “down to who can execute better, who’s got more speed, who’s got more compete in the battles.”

Brind’Amour has built a sterling reputation as a coach who can motivate players, and there’s always an air that he’s never asking his players to do something he didn’t do himself as a player. He’s also perhaps been under-appreciated as a tactician, with much of the praise heaped on him attributed to his ability to get the most out of his team.

“He makes great in-game adjustments,” Drury said. “I can’t say too much on the specifics, but he’s great in-game, and I don’t know if there’s a better motivator I’ve met in my life. Some of the pregame speeches are just pretty incredible. So he’ll have us ready to go tonight, both X’s and O’s and mentally, I’m sure.”

Brind’Amour’s postgame speeches are often posted by the Hurricanes’ social media team, and there’s almost a Bizarro Matt Foley vibe (minus the van down by the river and in slightly better shape), with the coach stomping around the room, caught up in the moment. The coach said the pregame speeches he gives are better planned.

“I’m not really much of an off-the-dome kind of guy,” he said.

As far as his chops as a tactician, Brind’Amour unsurprisingly shifted attention to his staff, in particular longtime Hurricanes video coach Chris Huffine.

“We’ve got a great staff, like I talk about all the time,” Brind’Amour said. “I feel like I’ve got the best video coach in the world. We may get beat on things, but it’s not because we didn’t know it was coming. It’s pretty dialed in, so those types of things help.”