Brett Pesce injury a ‘bummer’ for Canes but Tony DeAngelo ready as next-man-up on D

Team depth is always tested in the relentless grind of the Stanley Cup playoffs, and that already applies to the Carolina Hurricanes.

Two games into the playoffs, the Canes have lost defenseman Brett Pesce to injury, his return uncertain.

The next man up: Tony DeAngelo, who said he’s ready to step in for Pesce.

“I hope I can come in and pick up with what he’s been doing, do a good job and help the team win,” DeAngelo said Wednesday after a team practice at PNC Arena. “It’s tough. But it is what it is and you’ve got to be ready for whenever the time comes.

“I’ve got a chance to come in and help out and hopefully I can make a difference.”

The Hurricanes hold a 2-0 lead over the New York Islanders in the first-round series after their amazing comeback win Monday in Game 2. The next two games are on Long Island – Game 3 is Thursday at the Islanders” UBS Arena.

Pesce has been paired with Brady Skjei the past few years and given Canes coach Rod Brind’Amour consistently good play on a deep D corps that rivals any in the NHL. The two veterans were in sync, playing well off each other.

To lose Pesce to a lower-body injury so early in the playoffs, and on a non-contact play at that, is a blow. It’s not the way DeAngelo wanted to get in the lineup, but he’s now needed in the most important, high-pressure games of the season and is expected to play with Skjei in the Canes’ second defensive pairing.

“If we decide to go that way, we know what he is,” Brind’Amour said Wednesday. “Certainly a quality player and we have a lot of faith in him.”

DeAngelo, 28, was the odd man out a lot in the regular season – the Canes’ seventh defenseman and often a healthy scratch. He played just 31 games, contributing three goals and eight assists, meaning he did a lot of sitting.

“It’s unfortunate he didn’t get to play much this year because we were healthy,” Brind’Amour said. “But this is exactly why you want a guy like that around.”

DeAngelo does have playoff experience with the Canes. He was in for all 14 games in the 2022 playoffs, with a goal and 10 assists, before Carolina was ousted in the second round by the New York Rangers.

DeAngelo and Skjei were former teammates with the Rangers before coming to Carolina – Skjei in a 2020 trade and DeAngelo signed as a free agent in 2021. DeAngelo left for the Philadelphia Flyers after the 2022-23 season but was brought back before this season, again as a free-agent signee by the Canes.

“We’ve been together a long time,” DeAngelo said of Skjei. “This will be our first time playing in a playoff game together but I’m looking forward to it. He makes the pairing good with his skating and the way he defends, and I try to take the offensive side of things.”

Skjei’s 13 goals and 47 points in the regular season both were the best among the Canes’ defensemen, so he’s a threat to jump into offensive plays. DeAngelo has never been bashful about doing it.

“I’m going to get Brady the puck,” DeAngelo said Wednesday.

Skeji, seated a few feet away, smiled and countered, “I’m getting Tony the puck.”

To which DeAngelo added: “Hopefully we have the puck the whole time.”

Skjei called Pesce a “huge part of our team” and noted he and Pesce “had a good thing going.”

Now, the injury. In the playoffs, you regroup quickly and move on.

“It’s a bummer for the team, but Tony obviously is a helluva replacement and it’s that next-man-up mentality,” Skjei said. “We wish ‘Pesc’ a speedy recovery but Tony will do a good job in that spot. We all know how gifted he is. I’ll try to get him the puck and let him make plays and defend hard.”

The Canes expect to get the Islanders’ best effort in Game 3. The loss Monday was a crusher for the Isles, who had a three-goal lead in the second period and led 3-1 in third, then were helpless from stopping the Canes win it in the end.

But no time for pity parties. Another loss and the Islanders will be in an 0-3 hole. They’ll also have their home crowd to help rally them.