The Carolina Hurricanes and Washington Capitals are now officially locked into a series. Both teams have drawn blood, and with a pivotal Game 4 at PNC Arena just over 24 hours away, now is a good time to take a look at what we have learned so far in this contentious series.
- The Canes can’t afford any more forward injuries
Brind’Amour says Ferland highly unlikely to play in Game 4. De Haan closer to a return. B’A says it’s de Haan’s call on when he’s ready. Has been cleared.— Chip Alexander (@ice_chip) April 17, 2019
Coming into this series, two of the main weapons the Hurricanes were hoping to unleash on the Capitals were the playoff version of Micheal Ferland, who was a standout in Calgary when they last appeared in the postseason, and the teenager Andrei Svechnikov who had proved to be a significant offensive force in his first NHL season. Now, with those two players either confirmed out or expected to be missing for some portion of the remaining series, the Canes now find themselves unable to handle another injury.
By adding Saku Maenalanen and Greg McKegg consistently to the lineup, plus whatever role Patrick Brown plays in the next few games, the Canes will have a fourth line that leaves something to be desired, but will ultimately ice players who were a significant part of the turnaround that occured in the absence of Jordan Staal earlier in the year. If one more core player falls out of the lineup, however, they will be forced to bump additional fourth line players into their top-nine forward group. If the Canes hope to create consistent offense, that cannot happen.
2. Petr Mrazek is the guy in net
While the Canes’ path to success for most of the season involved an alternating of the goalies with Mrazek and Curtis McElhinney, Rod Brind’Amour has made a pretty clear statement in the first three games by remaining with Mrazek in net for each of the contests. Even though Mrazek was not in top form in the initial two losses in D.C., he did make enough crucial saves to keep his team in each game. When Game 3 came around, Brind’Amour returned to the well once again and was rewarded with the first Hurricanes playoff shutout since Cam Ward turned the trick in May 2009 against the Bruins. He will start Game 4, and it would seem that Mrazek is the man in net, barring injury or a particularly poor showing, for the remainder of the series.
3. The Capitals are missing Michal Kempny
One of the possible issues that many pointed out for the Capitals entering the series was just how they were going to replace the defensive presence of Michal Kempny. Injured in late March, Kempny played in 71 games and achieved the highest plus/minus on the team (+24) as a go-to defensive blueliner. While the Caps got out to early advantages in the first two games of the series, his absence was less significant.
But as the matchups adjusted on the road, and the Caps offense didn’t provide a cushion that would allow their forwards to be as helpful in the defensive and neutral zones, the loss of Kempny was felt dramatically. John Carlson and Matt Niskanen continue to log even heavier minutes than they did in the regular season, and the bottom pairing continues to prove itself to be vulnerable, if not an outright target. How the Caps can continue to manage such a gaping loss on the back end will largely tell the story of this series and any future series they might play.
4. Crowd Support - CHECK
While I don’t think many people were surprised that Hurricanes fans flocked to PNC Arena on Monday (and presumably will on Thursday), I do think that there was an expectation that there would be a not insignificant number of Capitals fans who made the drive down from parts of Virginia or elsewhere the D.C. area for a shot at seeing their team on the road within driving distance.
Instead, when the anthem singer got to the part where Caps fans typically yell “O!” in unison, it simply wasn’t there.
We all expected a sellout, but what we got was one of the more raucous - and one-sided - crowds any city has seen for a first round matchup in years. Everyone has loved to say that this building rocks when the Canes are good and giving them something to root for, and those fans were proven right in their declaration as fans stood through most of the game as the Canes trounced the defending Stanley Cup Champions.
5. This team has one of the strongest bonds we have seen in some time
Obviously, the circumstances surrounding the loss of Andrei Svechnikov due to the concussion protocol raised a red flag for the Canes and their fans. The 19-year-old was out of his depth in a fight with his idol, and his teammates and coaches showed how deeply they care for the kid and just what he has meant to the team in his first season here. In the aftermath of the one of the biggest wins as a group, their thoughts fell to their fallen teammate.
But teams with such a tight bond and a willingness to go the extra mile for the brother on their left and right often times are the teams that make the seemingly impossible come true. While overcoming a 2-0 deficit to the Caps would be by no means be sorcery (just look to Columbus-Tampa for that, wow), it would require this group to collectively dig in and play some of their best hockey as a group. Monday night was a tremendous example of what that looks like. Can they keep that level of effort and execution going forward? It will certainly be a lot of fun to find out.