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About Last Night: A Promising Comeback, But Still Not Enough

Slow starts and penalties continue to plague the Canes and they return home down 2-0 in their best-of-seven series against the Capitals.

NHL: Stanley Cup Playoffs-Carolina Hurricanes at Washington Capitals Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

The Carolina Hurricanes will return home for their first home playoff game in a decade with their backs squarely against the wall. Saturday’s overtime defeat in D.C. has given the Washington Capitals a commanding 2-0 series lead, and now the Canes must attempt to hold serve on home ice to return the series to Washington on even terms.

The effort continues to be present, but the slow start that plagued the Canes in Game 1 also proved to be a major obstacle in Game 2 as they fell behind two goals early yet again.

The Good - Plenty of fight

Faced with yet another multiple goal deficit within the first 10 minutes of play, the Canes showed their mettle by answering the bell with one goal in the first, and equalizers in the second and third periods to ultimately force overtime. The first goal was a result of tremendous work from a group of bottom-six forwards that culminated in Lucas Wallmark beating Braden Holtby, in part due to some grinding work from Saku Maenalanen in front of the net.

There were certainly additional trials of adversity, including an extensive penalty kill (more on that shortly), but in general, the Canes showed they are capable of competing with the Capitals. At this point however, that fight and determination must be present for the full 60 minutes in order to garner the result they seek.

Another positive that the Canes will take from Saturday will be the resurfacing of Sebastian Aho‘s offensive game. His late second period goal was the result of getting to the front of the net and creating opportunity to earn a gritty, playoff goal.

The Canes again answered a one goal deficit in the third period as they finally tallied on the powerplay with a tip in front from Jordan Staal.

The common thread in each of the three Hurricanes goals on Saturday was a significant screen or action in front of Holtby. The Canes will certainly take note of that, and you would hope that gaining that position and working to stay there will remain a priority for the rest of the series.

The Bad - Slow Starts and Time in the Box

Once again, the Hurricanes allowed the Caps to collect an early advantage in the first period. Nicklas Backstrom beat the Carolina defense to the front of the net to garner a tip-in on a stiff feed from Alexander Ovechkin.

That goal was shortly followed by a beauty from T.J. Oshie on the backhand.

A common thread to some of the best Capitals chances is their ability to continue to generate chances on the rush. The speed and skill of the top-end Washington forwards have given the Canes fits as maintaining gap control and sticks in the passing and shooting lanes have become more and more difficult.

In order for Carolina to remain in the series, they must find a way to force the Caps to dump the puck into the zone or to enter with much less speed than they have allowed in the first two games. No doubt the talented Caps will generate chances over the course of the game, but limiting their dangerous looks on the rush should provide a fighting chance for the Canes netminders, as well as the capable back-checking forwards, to assist the defensive corps with their difficult task.

The Ugly - The Penalties and the Ferland call

In what will hopefully turn out to be the most embarrassing call of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, Micheal Ferland was hit with a five-minute major and a match penalty for his hit on Nic Dowd in the second period.

On a hit that featured a lunging player who lowered his own head, Ferland miraculously managed to avoid direct head contact with his shoulder or elbow in delivering an otherwise clean hit to Dowd. Contact created with his lower-back did manage to land near the head, but was clearly the result of Dowd placing himself in a terribly vulnerable position. After the hit, the four officials on the ice got together and somehow managed to determine that a five-minute major and ejection was warranted for Ferland.

In a 2-1 game in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, the officials managed to get the call incorrect after a conference, and punished the Canes with a hugely punitive five minute penalty, but also the loss of Ferland for the remainder of the game. Rod Brind’Amour obviously disagreed:

Nevertheless, the Canes managed to kill the extended penalty, but the effects of losing a player of Ferland’s edge and caliber for the remainder of the game was certainly felt with the short bench available. Ferland, along with teammate Dougie Hamilton, who was penalized for elbowing Evgeny Kuznetsov, will not receive further supplemental discipline. The NHL appeared to confirm that the call on Ferland was simply missed. No consolation to the Canes, but clearly a positive that it will not effect future games in the series.

While the Ferland call was questionable at best, the Canes certainly must do a better job of staying out of the box in order to remain relevant in this series. The most obvious reason for this is that the Capitals have such a dangerous and dynamic power play. While the Canes were able to shut out the Caps man-advantage on Saturday, that was not the case in Game 1.

Beyond that, the Canes have also struggled to get into a rhythm in five-on-five play due to the consistent trips to the box. One of the big strengths for Carolina is their ability to basically roll four lines in five-on-five action and maintain a significant pace and style of game throughout the lineup. If they can clean up the penalties, they will be able to take away one of the Capitals’ biggest weapons, while simultaneously playing towards one of their own greatest strengths.

Moral of the Story

The bottom line is, while there are some positives to take from the effort and resilience of the Canes, the fact remains they are still searching for their first win in this best-of-seven series. Down 2-0, they must hope that they will be buoyed by what will surely be a frenzied crowd at home as they look to sweep Game 3 and 4 to return the series to Washington on even terms. That campaign must start with a solid effort in Game 3 on Monday.