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PREVIEW: Carolina Hurricanes set for delayed home opener against Tampa Bay Lightning

Dec 19, 2019; Denver, CO, USA; Carolina Hurricanes center Jordan Staal (11) in the third period against the Colorado Avalanche at the Pepsi Center. Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

The Carolina Hurricanes will learn the effects of an early season layoff when they return to play Thursday night against the visiting Tampa Bay Lightning on Thursday night in Raleigh, N.C.

The Hurricanes have been on a pause for more than a week because of a COVID-19 outbreak.

The Hurricanes haven’t played since Jan. 18, a victory at Nashville. Since then, four games were postponed, including last week’s home opener (and another game) vs. the Florida Panthers and Tuesday night’s matchup with Tampa Bay.

So how will Carolina, with a reduced roster because of the virus, react to the resumption of the season?

Related: If you’re a fan of the Hurricanes, check out #LetsGoCanes rumors, rankings, and news here.

“That’s kind of the great unknown,” Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour said. “I don’t think anyone really knows. We were just kind of getting rolling.”

By the end of the weekend, the Hurricanes had an NHL-high six players on the league’s COVID protocol list. They were captain Jordan Staal, Teuvo Teravainen, Warren Foegele, Jordan Martinook, Jaccob Slavin and Jesper Fast. Martinook and Slavin are alternate captains.

Staal was he first to go on the list. He played in only the season opener. But Staal returned to the ice when the Hurricanes were back at practice Tuesday.

“Now that I’m cleared, I’m just going to take it day by day and get the body back as quick as I can and do all the right things,” Staal said.

Brind’Amour said the Hurricanes are “making the best of this situation.” It’s not time for excuses, the coach said.

“Everybody has to step up now a little more,” Brind’Amour said. “We don’t have that vocal guy in the locker room like Martinook, what he brings. The energy that he provides, that’s gone. Somebody else has to fill that void.”

With a potential roster overhaul for the next few games, forward Steven Lorentz could be in line for his NHL debut.

“When these type of things arise, there’s opportunities for somebody and hopefully, he grabs it,” Brind’Amour said.

The Lightning, who won the 2020 Stanley Cup title, suffered their first defeat of the new season with Saturday night’s 5-2 setback at Columbus.

Related: If you’re a fan of the Lightning, check out #TBLightning rumors, rankings, and news here.

Then there was a tweak to their routine as well with two games against the Dallas Stars postponed.

“It’s been a lot more practice time than we anticipated, but you have to adjust on the fly,” Lightning defenseman Luke Schenn said. “You’re going to have to leave everything you have on the ice for every game.”

The Columbus game was potentially more than a loss for the Lightning. Defenseman Erik Cernak and center Mitchell Stephens departed with injuries.

“Stephens doesn’t look like he’s coming back anytime soon,” coach Jon Cooper said.

Stephens is out indefinitely with a lower-body injury. Cernak has an upper-body injury and is listed as day-to-day.

Instead of heading to Raleigh after the game with the Blue Jackets, the Lightning returned home and waited to see if the second game of the scheduled series would be played. They used the time to address some of the shortcomings from their loss in Columbus.

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“We have to do a better job at the blue lines making sure those turnovers don’t happen,” Lightning left winger Alex Killorn said.

Thursday night’s game was slated as the third game of Carolina’s originally scheduled six-game homestand that’s set to conclude on the final day of the month. Instead, it’s the home opener.

–Field Level Media