Luke DeCock

Svechnikov can be Hurricanes’ not-so-secret weapon

Canes’ Svechnikov feels ‘great,’ is ready to play

Carolina Hurricanes rookie Andrei Svechnikov says "I feel good, great" after a practice at PNC Arena and hopes to play Game 3 of the playoff series against the Islanders. Svechnikov has been out with a concussion since Game 3 of the Capitals series.
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Carolina Hurricanes rookie Andrei Svechnikov says "I feel good, great" after a practice at PNC Arena and hopes to play Game 3 of the playoff series against the Islanders. Svechnikov has been out with a concussion since Game 3 of the Capitals series.

He is, unquestionably, the Carolina Hurricanes not-so-secret weapon, the reinforcements they desperately needed at a point in the playoffs when they are bruised and battered and short-handed.

Andrei Svechnikov did not score in Game 3 on Wednesday, but he had two good chances, one off the post, and he looked – more than anything – fresh, a vital and valued commodity at this point in the season. The Russian rookie has his legs under him when many others don’t, and his return to action – and the way he handled several big hits, one drawing a penalty, sets the stage for bigger moments to come.

“I felt good from the start,” Svechnikov said before the Hurricanes had a chance to sweep the New York Islanders in Game 4 on Friday. “Just like first shift, I was kind of nervous. I didn’t play for a couple weeks. But I felt pretty good, you know?”

They knew from the beginning he had the kind of natural talent you only get with one of the first few picks in the draft, and while Rod Brind’Amour worked him slowly into the lineup over the course of the season, waiting for Svechnikov’s overall on-ice awareness to catch up with his offensive ability, the reins were largely loosened by the first round.

He was building toward this anyway, the unquestioned star of the first two games of the first-round series against the Washington Capitals, realizing perhaps for the first time in this spotlight just how effective he can be, feeling that confidence. And maybe too much so, given his willingness to engage with Alex Ovechkin, with slightly predictable but definitely disastrous results.

Who really knows what was going on between those two? The feud really started in September and boiled over in April, with roots in internal Russian dynamics no outsider would ever understand, but this much can be said: Svechnikov bit off way more than he could chew, his courage in excess of his wisdom, and he was lucky the consequences of Ovechkin’s knockout punch weren’t worse.

His recovery was quick, almost miraculously so, and while it took him a while to get through the concussion protocol he was pretty close to recovered a day or two after hitting the ice, some bruising around his eyes the only sign anything even happened. His good nature never wavered, even as he agonized over watching the six games he missed. In Washington before Game 5, they showed a clip of the fight. Svechnikov watched in the press box, unblinking.

“It was pretty hard to watch out there, my boys playing,” Svechnikov said. “I just wanted to come out and help in games for the team.”

Anyway, two and half weeks later Svechnikov was back, and not a moment later than the Hurricanes needed him. The question now is not only whether he can get back to the way he played to start the playoffs, but whether he can build on that. He joked after Wednesday’s game that the best chance he had, the one off the post, he didn’t even see any space. He just fired the puck. And nearly scored.

If the Hurricanes advance, whether that’s Friday or Sunday or Tuesday or Wednesday, they’re going to need all the firepower at their disposal, and Svechhikov is a big part of that. They can’t do this without him.

Sports columnist Luke DeCock has covered the Summer Olympics, the Final Four, the Super Bowl and the Carolina Hurricanes’ Stanley Cup. He joined The News & Observer in 2000 to cover the Hurricanes and the NHL before becoming a columnist in 2008. A native of Evanston, Ill., he graduated from the University of Pennsylvania and has won multiple national and state awards for his columns and feature writing while twice being named North Carolina Sportswriter of the Year.

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