Category 5: Hurricanes-Rangers Game 1 set; changes coming to Wolves

The Hurricanes will face former teammate Vincent Trocheck when Carolina kicks off its second round series against the Rangers on Sunday at Madison Square Garden. (Karl B. DeBlaker / AP Photo)

RALEIGH — The Hurricanes will practice Saturday at 11:30 a.m. at Invisalign Arena before traveling to New York City ahead of the start of their second series with the Rangers.

Carolina did not practice Friday but held a media availability at PNC Arena.

1. Game 1 of the Hurricanes’ second round series against the Rangers finally has a game time, with a 4 p.m. start Sunday at Madison Square Garden broadcasted by ESPN, the NHL announced.

Details for the rest of the series haven’t yet been announced, but with the Knicks scheduled to play at MSG on Monday and Wednesday, chances are Game 2 will be Tuesday evening.

2. The Hurricanes made a big announcement Thursday, though it wasn’t related to coach Rod Brind’Amour’s contract situation. Carolina has a new three-year agreement with the Chicago Wolves to make the AHL team its top affiliate.

The Hurricanes didn’t have an AHL affiliate this season after the Wolves, who missed the 2023 playoffs, opted to go independent rather than renew their partnership with Carolina. Chicago GM Wendell Young went on the record claiming the Hurricanes — whose top affiliate had won the Calder Cup the previous two times it was awarded — weren’t concerned about winning in the AHL.

“We didn’t sign up to not be competitive,” Young told InsideAHLHockey.

So the Wolves went out on their own. The result? Chicago finished the season 23-35-14, the AHL’s second-worst record. The freeze between the two teams did thaw as a handful of Hurricanes players — Antti Raanta, Domenick Fensore, Ronan Seeley, Griffin Mendel, Max Comtois and since-traded Vasily Ponomarev — suited up for the Wolves in 2023-24.

The relationship will be different next year.

Young, who has been the Wolves’ general manager for the past 15 seasons, will not be back in that role next season, Carolina President and GM Don Waddell told me. The Hurricanes are “otherwise undecided” on the management structure for the Wolves.

3. Brind’Amour said he thought the Hurricanes handled not having an AHL affiliate this season as well as they possibly could have.

“We managed it really well this year, I thought, but it was tough,” Brind’Amour said. “It certainly wasn’t something you want to continue, I don’t think. But you can manage it. Like I said, we did a good job with it. We were probably fortunate we didn’t have a bunch of injuries that you’re grabbing guys that were in different systems and trying to make it work.

“But yeah, I think (having an affiliate) is good for the organization, for sure.”

Carolina has signed several prospects in the last month — draft picks Scott Morrow, Bradly Nadeau, Jackson Blake, Gleb Trikozov and Ruslan Khazheyev, along with 26-year-ld Finn Juha Jaaska have all been inked since the start of April — so it was no surprise the AHL affiliation got sorted out.

4. The Hurricanes will see a familiar face in the second round in center Vincent Trocheck.

Trocheck played two-plus seasons in Carolina after coming over from the Panthers at the 2020 NHL trade deadline. He signed a seven-year, $39.375 million deal with the Rangers as a free agent in the summer of 2022.

After posting just one point, a goal, in seven games last postseason, Trocheck had three goals and three assists in the first round sweep of the Capitals. In the 2023-24 regular season, he had a career-best 77 points, scoring 25 goals.

“He was a great player for us,” Brind’Amour said Friday of Trocheck. “Wanted to keep him. This wasn’t a trade or something like that. It’s just business. Clearly, he’s been a great player for them. That’s not shocking. We knew that. They got a good one.”

Trocheck leans into being a pest and will likely try to get under the Hurricanes’ skin, though Carolina knows his game well.

“You usually don’t like the best players, and he’s a good player,” Hurricanes captain Jordan Staal said. “He plays hard and we’re gonna have battles out there, and everyone on this team is gonna have to be at their best against him.

“He’s going to bring it, and so will we. So there’ll be some bad blood, I’m sure, by the end of it. But from our time here, he’s a great guy and I had a lot of fun with him, but we’re here to win and I’m sure he’s thinking the same.”

5. Artemi Panarin is probably the Hurricanes’ biggest concern heading into the series. The 32-year-old set career highs in goals (49) and points (120) this season, and he has a knack for elevating his teammates (see Trocheck).

“There’s a few in the league, right? And he’s definitely one of them,” Brind’Amour said. “He’s got the super high IQ and the talent, and he’s got a really innate ability to get pucks to the net. Even when you’re on him, he finds a way to just snap them in the

Panarin struggled in last year’s postseason, finishing with just two assists in the Rangers’ seven-game first round loss to the Devils. In New York’s sweep of Capitals, he had two goals and an assist. Two of his three points came on the power play, and his underlying 5-on-5 numbers were underwhelming.