American Hockey League

McKegg thriving with Hurricanes

BOSTONGreg McKegg has experienced his share of disappointment in hockey.

So the Carolina Hurricanes forward is savoring his success in the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs heading into Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Final against the Boston Bruins on Sunday (3 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, SN, TVAS).

The Bruins lead the best-of-7 series 1-0.

[RELATED: Complete Bruins vs. Hurricanes series coverage]

McKegg, who has played for five teams in six NHL seasons, has scored in consecutive playoff games after scoring six goals in 41 regular-season games, none since March 8. He scored in the Hurricanes’ 5-2 win in Game 4 against the New York Islanders in the second round. His goal in Game 1 against the Bruins on Thursday gave Carolina a 2-1 lead.

“For me, it’s just any way I can contribute and help the team,” he said after practice Saturday. “It’s nice to put a couple in a row. It’s been a while.”

The Hurricanes, the first wild card from the Eastern Conference, defeated the defending Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals in seven games in the first round before sweeping the 103-point Islanders in the second round. 

Video: NYI@CAR, Gm4: McKegg beats Lehner with tap-in tally

Before this run, the 26-year-old had played in one Stanley Cup Playoff game, with the Florida Panthers in 2016. He has played in 11 this postseason.

“It’s tough to sit back and think about it and reflect on it,” McKegg said of his journey. “It’s been kind of a whirlwind. It’s happened so fast. We’re fighting to get into the playoffs and the next thing you know we are in the conference final. Everything has come at us fast, but it’s been a lot of fun to be a part of and we want to keep it going.”

McKegg is hoping being the center on an effective fourth line that has been tenacious on the forecheck and responsible in the defensive zone turns into a full-time role with Carolina next season. He has left an impression on first-year coach Rod Brind’Amour since his recall from Charlotte of the American Hockey League on Jan. 4.

“I love the guy,” Brind’Amour said Thursday. “He’s been a journeyman, kind of. He’s quiet and just goes about his business. In every aspect, he tries to do what you ask of him. Coaches love him. When we got him, you go back to the other organizations, you go back to the other teams he was on and everybody says how much they loved him. He’s just a steady player, he does it right. Every day, he tries to do it right. There is no lack of effort there. 

Video: CAR@BOS, Gm1: McKegg scores after driving the net

“He’s earned his way onto our team. He played half the year in the minors this year to start and most of last year, but he’s been here ever since. I don’t see him going down again.”

McKegg was selected by the Toronto Maple Leafs in the third round (No. 62) in the 2010 NHL Draft as a high-scoring prospect playing for Erie of the Ontario Hockey League. He made his NHL debut during the 2013-14 season but spent his first two seasons bouncing between Toronto and the AHL. 

He was traded to Florida in 2015, playing 46 games with the Panthers in two seasons and then was claimed off waivers by the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2017. He signed with the Pittsburgh Penguins, splitting 2017-18 between the AHL and NHL again. He was traded to Carolina for forward Josh Jooris on Feb. 26, 2018, finishing the season in Charlotte of the AHL.

McKegg thought he had a chance to make the Hurricanes out of training camp this season and was disappointed to return to Charlotte. There were a lot of calls and pep talks from his father Mike. He kept grinding and was finally called up.

“Hockey’s a tough business,” McKegg said. “If it was easy, everyone would be doing it. It’s tough being up and down all the time, but you have to stick with it and hope for opportunities like this.”

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