Experienced McElhinney answers the call for Hurricanes in Game 2

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BROOKLYN, N.Y. — Jaccob Slavin just wanted to have a small chat with Curtis McElhinney as the pair left the ice following the end of the second period, but his attempt was denied by a completely locked-in goaltender.

“No idea,” McElhinney said smiling when asked about Slavin’s conversation starter following the Carolina Hurricanes’ 2-1 Game 2 victory over the New York Islanders. “Unless he’s calling for a puck that’s the only thing I’m looking for. Other than that I’m not out there to have conversation.”

McElhinney’s focus was on display as he finished with 17 saves and three thank-yous to deliver to his posts that bailed him out in the third period as the Hurricanes clung to a 2-1 lead.

While the Hurricanes weren’t used to this situation having not had to pull a goalie through their first 90 games, McElhinney’s career as a veteran backup made him fully prepared to come in on a moment’s notice.

“I’ve been doing it for a number of years now,” he said afterward. “It’s a tough position to get into at any point. It took me a little while to learn it, but I feel pretty good at it now.”

McElhinney’s attention had to be sharp before he entered Game 2. Due to the set up at Barclays Center, there is no room on the bench for the visiting backup goalie, who has to sit and watch from the tunnel (much like at Nassau Coliseum). The 35-year-old had been disconnected from his teammates during Game 1 and Game 2 before he was called up, and had to rely on intermissions to pick up any intelligence once back in the dressing room.

But when the call went out for his services, that’s when the adrenaline started flowing.

“[T]he heart rate just goes through the roof when you get into the game right away when you’re thrust into it like that tonight,” he said.

McElhinney, who was drafted in 2002, when teammate Andrei Svechnikov was two years old, couldn’t help but laugh when told he made history Sunday afternoon. He’s now the first goaltender in NHL history to make his first three career playoff appearances with three different teams. His postseason debut — which he played with a broken finger — came back in 2009 while with the Calgary Flames against the Chicago Blackhawks. As a member of the Toronto Maple Leafs last season, he entered Game 2 against the Boston Bruins in mop-up duty of a 7-3 loss. “Obviously, that never goes well,” he noted.

The way McElhinney’s career has played out, it’s no surprise that his teammates and head coach are used to his ability to avoid being swallowed up by the moment. After having lost yet another player to injury when Trevor van Riemsdyk was forced from Game 2 early in the first period, the Hurricanes had to watch as Mrazek left the ice. This wasn’t a typical situation where the backup coming in has less in-season experience than the starter. Carolina had a pretty balanced workload for their goaltenders during the regular season, with Mrazek playing 40 games to McElhinney’s 33, and it’s been a near 50-50 split since the beginning of February.

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“He’s been huge. Both our goalies have been huge,” said Warren Foegele, who scored Carolina’s first goal 17 seconds into the third period. “It’s not easy coming off the bench there and not having faced a shot for 30 minutes or so and come up big with some stellar saves. Curtis is a battler, and he’s shown that throughout the year that he’s capable of making big saves, and so is Petr. We’ve been real fortunate to have two great goalies and tonight you could see why.”

An October waiver claim, McElhinney, who is the Hurricanes’ 2019 Masterton Trophy nominee, is on his seventh NHL team after making his debut during the 2007-08 season. His 33 games played this season was the most in his career — one that’s seen him mainly serve as a backup. Anyone on the Carolina roster will tell you how big a role he’s played in their success this season, along with Mrazek. That’s why there was no panic when the injury occurred and the vet was summoned. 

McElhinney replaced Mrazek with the Hurricanes trailing 1-0. Two quick goals to open the third period changed the game, and suddenly Carolina went from being offensively focused to trying to withstand the Islanders’ desperate attempts to tie it up.

Coming into the game when he did helped McElhinney because he fed off his teammates’ energy as they pursued their opening goal. That balance continued as he shut out the Islanders, who were attempting to send the series to Raleigh evened up for Game 3 on Wednesday (7 p.m. ET; NBCSN)

“That’s playoff hockey in general,” McElhinney said. “You certainly don’t want to go in there when the guys are kind of shut down and it’s a 5-0 game. Tonight was a fun one to be a part of.”

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Blackhawks’ Boris Katchouk sidelined by ankle sprain

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CHICAGO — Blackhawks forward Boris Katchouk will be sidelined for four to six weeks with a left ankle sprain, the team announced.

The 24-year-old Katchouk played almost 12 minutes during a 3-0 preseason loss to Detroit on Saturday night. He was acquired in a multiplayer trade with Tampa Bay in March.

The Blackhawks open the season on Oct. 12 at Colorado.

The team also said forward Jujhar Khaira is day to day with a right ankle injury.

Ducks’ Urho Vaakanainen crashes into boards, leaves on stretcher

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ANAHEIM, Calif. — Ducks defenseman Urho Vaakanainen was taken off the Honda Center ice on a stretcher after he crashed into the end boards in the first period of Anaheim’s preseason game against the San Jose Sharks.

The Finnish defenseman was conscious and alert with full movement in his extremities at UCI Medical Center, the Ducks said.

The frightening incident occurred midway through the opening period when Vaakanainen smashed into the boards at a dangerous speed behind the Sharks’ net. Vaakanainen appeared to be concentrating on the pass he had just made to Derek Grant, who scored the Ducks’ opening goal on the assist.

Vaakanainen’s teammates came onto the ice and gathered around him as he was taken away on the stretcher.

The Ducks acquired the 23-year-old Vaakanainen from Boston last March in the deal that sent longtime Ducks defenseman Hampus Lindholm to the Bruins. After recording two assists in 14 games for the Ducks last season, Vaakanainen is attempting to win a top-six role on Anaheim’s defense this fall.

Lightning donate $2 million to Hurricane Ian relief efforts

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TAMPA, Fla. — The Tampa Bay Lightning and team owner Jeff Vinik are donating $2 million toward Hurricane Ian relief efforts.

The NHL team announced that $1 million each will be donated by the Tampa Bay Lightning Foundation and the Vinik Family Foundation.

“This is a tragic situation for many families and communities across the state of Florida, but especially so in the southwest region of the state,” Vinik said in a statement released by the team. “In times like these the most important thing we can do is support one another, and we hope this donation will help families recover and rebuild in the months to come.”

Ian made landfall Wednesday on Florida’s Gulf Coast, south of the Tampa Bay area. The Lightning postponed two home preseason games and moved the club’s training camp to Nashville, Tennessee, during the storm.

Maple Leafs sign defenseman Rasmus Sandin to 2-year deal

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TORONTO — Rasmus Sandin has signed a two-year, $2.8 million contract with the Toronto Maple Leafs, the club announced on Thursday.

The 22-year-old from Sweden was the 29th overall selection in the 2018 draft. Sandin had 16 points in 51 games with Toronto last season. He’s played in 88 career regular-season games, with six goals and 22 assists, and has one goal in five playoff games.

“Got a great set of tools,” fellow defenseman Jake Muzzin said. “With experience, I think they’re only going to get better.”

The signing comes as the Leafs’ blueliners been hit hard by injuries. Muzzin has been dealing with a back issue, and Timothy Liljegren recently had surgery for a hernia.

Toronto then lost Jamie Benn (groin) and Carl Dahlstrom (shoulder) in Wednesday’s 3-0 preseason victory over the Montreal Canadiens, pressing forwards Calle Jarnkrok and Alexander Kerfoot into defensive roles for two periods.