Raleigh, N.C. — There was doubt and trepidation, but the Red Wings and Carolina Hurricanes have been deemed safe and able to play.
When the Hurricanes had no new COVID positive tests Thursday morning — they were scheduled for one more round before the game — it clinched the fact the game would be played.
The Red Wings are without forwards Robby Fabbri and Michael Rasmussen in COVID protocol. The Hurricanes had six regulars out of the lineup due to protocol.
“Everybody wishes we weren’t in this situation, but we are,” coach Jeff Blashill said. “We have to focus on what we can control. There are two points on the line and one of those teams will get those two points. We have to find a way to stay focused and get two points.”
The Wings recalled forwards Taro Hirose and Kyle Criscuolo from Grand Rapids to replace Fabbri and Hirose.
Blashill plans to make his final lineup decisions later this afternoon. He was adamant the Wings couldn’t take Carolina lightly.
“We shouldn’t have any thoughts other than that we have to play great hockey, and not worry about who they have or don’t have in their lineup,” Blashill said. “They’ll play their hardest, extremely hard. We have to come in and play extremely hard.”
At the Hurricanes’ morning availability coach Rod Brind’Amour (Michigan State) tried to dwell on the positives, particularly for the three players Carolina called up from the minor leagues.
“With key guys out it’s going to make it tougher,” Brind’Amour said. “But it’s a great opportunity too.”
The Hurricanes were planning on playing two players short — with 10 forwards and six defensemen, mainly because of rules on NHL call-ups under the salary cap. Carolina is near the ceiling of the cap.
“It’s a great opportunity for new guys coming up and making their debuts,” Brind’Amour said. “What better opportunity are you going to have than the ice time you’re going to get (Thursday). It’s not ideal. I get it. But there’s no point focusing on that.
“Focus on it’s a great opportunity to show your stuff.”
The Hurricanes did have defensemen Brett Pesce and Tony DeAngelo available, both off the COVID list. Both were ready to play Tuesday in Minnesota, but the game was postponed when forwards Sebastian Aho, Jordan Staal, Andrei Svechnikov, Steven Lorentz and Seth Jarvis, and defenseman Ian Cole all landed on the protocol list.
Blashill and forward Dylan Larkin both remarked Wednesday about the challenges NHL teams are facing these days with the virus decimating rosters.
Brind’Amour, too, said the challenges are adding to the daily stress.
“High anxiety for all the guys, especially when you’re on the road,” Brind’Amour said. “Nobody wants to get stuck in a hotel room, in another country, and the unknown is what scares most guys.”
The NHL implemented enhanced measures Wednesday that’ll last until early January to try to limit the spread of the virus.
The measures are similar to last season, when players were mainly limited to staying in their hotel rooms on the road and keeping their distance from teammates at arenas.
““It’s unfortunate but you have to do everything you can to make sure you’re healthy and limit the spread as much as you can,” Larkin said. “It seems hard right now with everything that’s going on, not only in our sport but pro sports in general. It’s definitely going around and you think about the health and safety of the guys first.
“You can’t get upset and blame anyone. You have to deal with it and try to find a way as a team to keep moving forward.”
Help from Grand Rapids
Criscuolo, 29, has played parts of four seasons with Grand Rapids over two separate stints. Criscuolo played his 10th career NHL game, and Red Wings’ debut, Dec. 1. Criscuolo had five goals and four assists for nine points, in 19 games with Grand Rapids this season.
Hirose, 25, an undrafted free agent out of Michigan State, has played in 42 games with the Wings totaling 16 points (three goals, 13 assists). Hirose has 74 points (14 goals, 60 assists) in 86 games with Grand Rapids.
This season, Hirose has four goals and 15 assists (19 points) in 22 games.
“He’s played solid hockey down there,” said Blashill of Hirose. “He’s a real smart player. He can step into the lineup and do a solid job.”