The waiting is nearly over. The Carolina Hurricanes return to the Stanley Cup Playoffs tonight. After a regular season which saw the Canes set the franchise record for road wins (22), the team travels to Washington for the first game in the best-of-seven series.
Since roughly half of the team will be making their playoff debuts tonight, expect head coach Rod Brind’Amour to lean on the top two lines. Among Carolina’s top six forwards, only Sebastian Aho will be skating in his first playoff game. Of those top six forwards, three already have their names on the Stanley Cup (Justin Williams [3x] , Jordan Staal, Teuvo Teravainen). The Canes haven’t played since last Saturday and didn’t practice this morning, giving everyone a well-deserved rest.
Calvin de Haan, who missed the last three games of the regular season with an upper body injury, is with the team in D.C. and skated this morning, but there is no timeframe for his return to the lineup.
Petr Mrazek has been confirmed as tonight’s starting netminder. Mrazek went 12-3-0 over his last 15 games with a 1.67 GAA and .943 save percentage. He has 3 career playoff shutouts in 11 playoff appearances.
Below is the Canes’ projected lineup:
Nino Niederreiter - Sebastian Aho - Justin Williams
Micheal Ferland - Jordan Staal - Teuvo Teravainen
Andrei Svechnikov - Jordan Martinook - Brock McGinn -
Greg McKegg - Lucas Wallmark - Warren Foegele
Jaccob Slavin - Dougie Hamilton
Brett Pesce - Justin Faulk
Haydn Fleury - Trevor van Riemsdyk
Scratches: Calvin de Haan (upper body), Jake Bean (healthy), Saku Maenalanen (healthy)
The Washington Capitals are a familiar foe, but this will be the first time the teams have met in the post-season. The reigning Stanley Cup Champions boast the leading goal scorer in the NHL, Alex Ovechkin (51), who just completed his eighth season with 50 or more goals. In net, Braden Holtby is 5-0-0 in his last five starts with a 1.60 GAA and .947 save percentage. Up and down the lineup, the Caps have talent and experience. The Canes will need to be sharp to pull out the win.
The Capitals took care of a little business this morning in advance of tonight’s game. They re-signed forward Nic Dowd to a three-year contract, and they recalled Ilya Samsonov from AHL Hershey to serve as their number three netminder.
Here’s how Washington will line up tonight:
Alex Ovechkin - Nicklas Backstrom - Tom Wilson
Carl Hagelin - Evgeny Kuznetsov - T.J. Oshie
Jakub Vrana - Lars Eller - Brett Connolly
Andre Burakovsky - Nic Dowd - Chandler Stephenson
John Carlson - Nick Jensen
Dmitry Orlov - Matt Niskanen
Brooks Orpik - Christian Djoos
Scratches: Michal Kempny (hamstring surgery)