In the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs the Carolina Hurricanes have won more games than the Tampa Bay Lightning and Pittsburgh Penguins — combined. The two-day break came at a great time for the Canes who lost two players in their last game and could use extra time to define the remaining players’ roles in the lineup.
The Canes will continue to feed off of the PNC Arena energy again in game four to even the series heading back to Washington, D.C. Two straight home wins heading into a pivotal Game 5 would be massive for the Hurricanes.
Heading into the game the Canes need to focus on a few key points.
New Lines and Matchups
The Washington Capitals and head coach Todd Reirden changed every forward line and made changes on the defense. Tom Wilson was demoted from the first line and is replaced by T.J. Oshie. Jakub Vrana was promoted to the second line and Carl Hagelin was demoted to the third line. The walking human liability, Christian Djoos will likely be replaced by Jonas Siegenthaler.
The new lines make the Caps way more top heavy. The top line is going to be very difficult for the Canes to handle. Making sure the Canes with the last change can handle the top line with the top d-pair will really help. The third and fourth lines are also less daunting than before, which will allow the Canes to exploit them with their better skill lines.
This also means that the Canes can roll their new fourth line of Saku Maenalanen, Greg McKegg, and Patrick Brown against the Caps bottom line. I wouldn’t have expected to see them with the Caps previous set up.
Regardless, it is going to be crucial that Rod Brind’Amour gets the most out of his new look lines and find the right matchups for the Caps’ new look lines, something he hasn’t had to do a lot of.
Game 3 was when the top blew off of the series physically. The Canes had 59 hits in the game to the Caps’ 34, but it was much more chippy with hard hits and obviously The Fight. Hitting is good for the Canes, but they need to make sure they don’t cross the line.
First, the Canes have to stay out of the box. They singlehandedly lost game one because of their PK letting up two goals. In games two and three the Caps went 0/8 on the power play, and both games were extremely close. The Canes win momentum at even strength but flirt with fire letting Alex Ovechkin play from his office. The prolific scorer has 22 career playoff power play goals and tucked 18 during the 2018-2019 season.
Secondly, the Canes should not stoop down to the Caps level. The Caps have the more physical players and they WILL cross the line if provoked. The Canes should not retaliate or start that fire to let Tom Wilson be unleashed and give the Caps momentum. They need to beat them where it counts, on the scoreboard.
The first piece of this is obvious: the team that has scored first in this series has gone on to win every game. Both teams have also struggled to stop the bleeding and have scored the second goal of the game as well.
Outside of the obvious score advantage, the arena will be rocking again for Game 4 and the Canes need to keep them in the game for as long as possible. They need to jump out and grab momentum early with the first goal.
This can also make Washington second-guess their line combinations all game and see if they re-set their line up or stick with their new look. Their coach is also a rookie, and it could be interesting to see how he handles things if his first changeup doesn’t not work.
Nicklas Backstom has had Mrazek’s number in the first period with his lightning fast release. This includes the first goal of the series which was so quick Mrazek didn’t even move. While the first game saw the Canes allow multiple power play goals, the second game saw two goals in the first half of the first period including a goal on the third shot of the game.
Once Mrazek settles in the Canes play well. He has only conceded two goals after the first period of games. If he can settle in, he tends to play with speed, making sure he can cut off angles and drifting back into the net with the same speed as the shooter. When he can gauge this correctly, he takes over games, which explains his four shutouts in five playoff wins.
Let’s hope he gets his second in a row and sends a tied series back to Washington.