Luke DeCock

On the 24th day, the Hurricanes rested. Finally.

Carolina Hurricanes goalie Curtis McElhinney talks about the win over the New York Islanders

Hurricanes goalie Curtis McElhinney in his second career post-season start, helps Hurricanes sweep series
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Hurricanes goalie Curtis McElhinney in his second career post-season start, helps Hurricanes sweep series

And on the 24th day, they rested. Not like the extra days off they grabbed when there were two days between games, once in each of the first two rounds. Really rested. Away from the rink, away from the game, away from the grind.

After 11 playoff games in 23 days, the Carolina Hurricanes took Saturday and Sunday entirely off, their reward for the second-round sweep of the New York Islanders completed Friday night. It’s an unheard-of luxury for a team that had less than 44 hours between its double-overtime Game 7 win at the Washington Capitals and the beginning of the second round in Brooklyn.

The Hurricanes have been skipping practices and morning skates and lurching from game to game, the power play probably suffering more than anything as a result. And now, as the Columbus Blue Jackets and Boston Bruins slug it out for the other spot in the Eastern Conference finals, the Hurricanes will watch and heal and recover. And rest.

“Now we can watch the other guys hopefully beat up on each other as much as they can, as the Islanders watched us,” Hurricanes captain Justin Williams said. “It’s important to get your rest. Very important. It’s a weapon at this time of the year. We didn’t want to go back to New York, that’s for sure.”

The physical toll has been immense. Trevor van Riemsdyk has officially been ruled out for the rest of the playoffs after undergoing shoulder surgery, while Micheal Ferland’s status going forward remains uncertain.

But the time off – and it could be as long as eight days if the Boston-Columbus series goes all seven games – comes at a good time for players both in the lineup and out of it. Saku Maenalanen will be inching closer to a return after hand surgery by the time the next series starts, while some rest will benefit Jordan Martinook, who played Games 3 and 4 on one leg, and Petr Mrazek, who has been day-to-day since exiting Game 2 with what is believed to be a groin injury.

Even his replacement, Curtis McElhinney, could use a break after playing in three games in five nights, a heavy workload for the 35-year-old. There are several other players nursing less severe bumps and bruises, and while the Hurricanes insist a resurgent Sebastian Aho is healthy, he still isn’t taking faceoffs.

Beyond that, there’s work to do: The power play is a hot mess despite scoring Friday, thanks to Islanders defenseman Adam Pelech putting the puck in his own net, and the Hurricanes swept the Islanders despite being generally outplayed in three of four games. Clinical finishing and solid goaltending pulled the Hurricanes through, perhaps the least-Hurricanes phrase ever written, but they know they’ll have to be better no matter who they play in the conference finals.

“I don’t think it’s going to be an easy seven or eight days here,” Hurricanes defenseman Justin Faulk said. “I think a couple guys will get a chance to rest up and get back to normal, but we’re not going to waste that time we have off. We’re going to use it to shore up our game a little bit and I’m sure we’ll have some tough skates in there if the days get a little longer than they need to be.

“We’ll be all right. Guys will work. That’s our group. We work hard. Doesn’t matter whether it’s a day off or not. I don’t know if you guys know, but we haven’t practiced much recently. Seems to be OK for us.”

And there will be questions, as there were for the Islanders, about how a team with that much time off will fare against a battle-hardened team coming out of a six- or seven-game series. That didn’t seem to have a ton of impact on that series, either way; the Hurricanes looked fresh enough and the Islanders looked sharp enough.

At this point, after a nonstop four-week grind – and, really, after almost as relentless three-month grind just to make the playoffs – it’s a risk Rod Brind’Amour is willing to take.

“I think a break is what they need, more almost mentally,” the Hurricanes coach said. “They need more of that. Will it affect us in our first game? We’re going to hear about that. Maybe. There might be a little rust there. But we need it.”

It’s a problem the Hurricanes will deal with later. Maybe as later as next weekend.

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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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