The wait is almost over – the NHL regular season begins tomorrow. And since the Carolina Hurricanes are one of the league’s youngest and most exciting teams to watch nowadays, we’ve picked out five particular must-see games for this upcoming season.
The Hurricanes are a smaller-market team but that doesn’t mean they have any shortage of intriguing rivalries or fun matchups. They made some long-awaited progress last season, and with all the moves they’ve made over the summer, they should push the pace on another successful campaign.
Saturday, Oct. 5 @ Washington Capitals
In what’s become one of the quickest-developing rivalries in the NHL, the Carolina Hurricanes and Washington Capitals will meet on the first weekend of the regular season to settle their scores, and there are a few storylines to follow. Firstly, the Capitals seek revenge after suffering a Game 7, double-overtime loss to the Hurricanes in Round 1 last postseason.
There were some nasty moments in that grueling series that only fueled the flames between the Metropolitan Division rivals. There was the infamous Andrei Svechnikov-Alex Ovechkin fight in Game 3 that left the 19-year-old rookie Svechnikov concussed. And Capitals fans were up in arms when Hurricanes forward Warren Foegele avoided suspension on the brutal hit in Game 4 that sidelined Capitals forward T.J. Oshie for the rest of the series.
The rivalry escalated further during their last preseason game just days ago when Washington’s Tom Wilson got into a heated argument with the Hurricanes’ bench, leading to a 10-minute misconduct for the Capitals’ bruiser. Following the game, Wilson spoke to media about the interaction: “I was pretty calm until some words came from their bench,” he said. “And it wasn’t the players. So we’ll leave it at that.”
With all fingers pointing to ‘Canes head coach Rod Brind’Amour, Wilson responded: “I don’t think – if you ask anyone around the league – coaches chirping players is appropriate, so I was a little fired up. It’s good to get some emotion into it in preseason and we’ll see them down the road.”
Capitals head coach Todd Reirden also said he had some words for the Hurricanes’ bench between periods, and echoed Wilson’s comments that coaches talking to opposing team’s players is “off limits.” We definitely haven’t seen the end of this feud, and with only six days in between to cool off, Saturday night in Washington will surely be a war.
Friday, Oct. 11 vs New York Islanders
Fresh off getting swept by the Hurricanes in round two last postseason, the New York Islanders will storm the PNC Arena on Oct. 11 looking for some revenge of their own. It was a chippy series between two of the NHL’s hardest-hitting teams, but one defining moment of the series came in Game 3, when Islanders forward Brock Nelson tapped Hurricanes’ goaltender Curtis McElhinney on the helmet after the Islanders scored the game-tying goal in the second period.
The Hurricanes went on to win the game 5-2, and wrapped up the series in Game 4 with another 5-2 win. When it came time for Nelson and the Islanders to line up and shake hands with the Hurricanes, Dougie Hamilton pulled a cold-blooded move by shaking Nelson’s hand and giving him a little tap on the head of his own.
There’s no telling if that moment between Hamilton and Nelson will turn into anything more, but after a short, emotional series, there’s no doubt the first matchup between the two clubs will be an entertaining battle.
Monday, Dec. 23 @ Toronto Maple Leafs
Christmas is coming two days early for Toronto Maple Leafs fans, as their long-time hero, who was loved above all else and definitely never booed, Jake Gardiner returns to Toronto. Gardiner was a lightning rod for criticism during his eight-year career with the Maple Leafs, specifically in the past few seasons when the team started to get good. Unfortunately for Gardiner, he seemed to have his worst games when the stakes were at their highest, particularly in playoffs and Game 7s.
But now that he’s a member of the Hurricanes, his return to Toronto will be… an interesting one. For a guy who played as long as he did with just one team, it seems only fitting he’d get some kind of tribute or salute from the fans. But the hockey fans in Toronto have fangs, and you never know what to expect when you walk into Scotiabank Arena, especially when you’re Gardiner. It’s sure to be a nerve-wracking night for the 29-year-old, which makes it a can’t-miss.
Saturday, Feb. 29 @ Montreal Canadiens
Better mark this one on the calendar too, if you’re into juicy NHL drama. The Montreal Canadiens pulled a backdoor move on the Hurricanes this past summer when they attempted to poach the Hurricanes’ top forward, Sebastian Aho. Aho, a restricted free agent at the time, was offered a five-year, $42.27-million offer sheet by the Canadiens, which the Hurricanes immediately announced they intended to match.
Offer sheets are rare in the NHL – we hadn’t seen one since Ryan O’Reilly in 2013. In this case, the Hurricanes waited as long as possible under the league’s CBA before officially matching, putting the Canadiens in an awkward position – if they spent money elsewhere in free agency, they risked spending money they didn’t technically have.
Not only did the Hurricanes string the Canadiens along with the Aho ordeal, but they also snagged Gardiner off free agency later in the summer – another player Montreal was reportedly attempting to court. It was a battle of the head offices that may eventually leak onto the ice once the two teams meet this season. The Hurricanes play Montreal twice in Carolina – first in their season opener on Oct. 3 – before they travel to the Bell Centre on Feb. 29. It certainly has the potential to be a little bit awkward, but how exactly will Aho respond against the team he almost joined?
Thursday, Mar. 19 vs St. Louis Blues
On what’s sure to be one of the most emotional games of the season for both teams on the ice, Mar. 19 marks the date Justin Faulk returns to Carolina. The defenseman was drafted by the Hurricanes in 2010 and played eight seasons for Carolina. Few players have donned the Hurricane crest longer than Faulk, and though he fell out of touch with the franchise over the past few years, he’s sure to get a very warm welcome when he comes back to Raleigh.
Faulk was traded to the St. Louis Blues on Sept. 24 in a deal that brought Joel Edmundson and Dominik Bokk to Carolina. Over the past few seasons, he had been surpassed by defensemen like Jaccob Slavin, Hamilton and Brett Pesce. With his contract soon to expire and the recent Gardiner signing, it was only a matter of time before he was traded.
Though Faulk had come under criticism lately for his inconsistency and occasional defensive gaffes, he’s still beloved and highly respected in Carolina. How could you not respect a guy who gave it his all and stuck with the team during its awful nine-year playoff drought? The Hurricanes and Blues face off in St. Louis on Feb. 4, but you’ll want to tune in on Thursday, Mar. 19 when Faulk returns to Carolina, as it’s sure to be a sentimental night for both Faulk and Hurricanes fans.
If you’re looking for other Hurricanes games to mark on your calendar, these might catch your fancy: Saturday, Nov. 16 @ Minnesota Wild (Nino Niederreiter’s return to Minnesota), Saturday Nov. 23/24 (back-to-back against the Florida Panthers and Detroit Red Wings, where goaltenders James Reimer and Petr Mrazek could split starts against their former teams). Otherwise, any matchup against Metropolitan division teams will be sure to bring out the best in the Hurricanes and their opponents.