The home ice advantage has been serious business in round between the Carolina Hurricanes and the Washington Capitals, but if the Canes want to take this best-of-seven series, they’re going to have to win on the road at some point.
Tonight would be an acceptable time for that.
After a pair of wins in front of a couple of the loudest crowds in hockey this year, the Canes have evened up the series at two games apiece. The question now is if Carolina can carry any of that momentum and confidence onto the road in Saturday night’s game five.
If they are to do so, they’ll need a few things to go their way. Here are your keys for a game-five victory for the seventh-seeded Carolina Hurricanes.
The First Goal
Through the first four games of this series, the team that has scored first has won the game. Across the league, the team that has scored first in the post season has won north of 65% of the time.
Obviously, the first goal tonight is going to be huge. It’s going to set the tone for the rest of the game, and the Hurricanes really need to get it, especially since they’re on the road in Washington’s building. Warren Foegele’s goal in game four, just 17 seconds in, got the crowd into things and helped Carolina immensely. The Canes need to do the inverse and get the Caps’ crowd out of it.
Foegele’s success on the scoresheet certainly hasn’t made the Capitals fall in love with him, and his late collision with T.J. Oshie in game four certainly won’t help his case with the Caps or their fans.
The rookie, who has exploded for three goals over the last two games and five points in this series, was assessed a two-minute penalty for boarding. Caps bench boss Todd Reirden said after the game that Foegele’s hit was dangerous and worth of potential supplemental discipline. Rod Brind’Amour pretty much scoffed at that. The NHL Department of Player Safety sided with Carolina on that one. No further punishment was given to Foegele.
In game five, the Capitals will be physical and they’ll use Oshie’s injury as a motivator. The Hurricanes have to be ready for the aggression, which they have been over the last few games, and they can’t be coaxed into taking dumb penalties. If they can keep their poise and, largely, ignore Washington’s attempts to get into their heads, they’re going to be in great shape and they’ll likely draw some penalties along the way.
Though, for what it’s worth, I don’t think game five is going to be nearly as physical or ugly as some other might think. Both teams will have the same goal in mind - winning the hockey game. When it comes down to it, both clubs know what they have to do, and making dumb plays for retribution and putting their team in a hole is nowhere near the top of the list in this dead-even first-round series.
Sebastian Aho was noticeably off during the stretch run of the regular season, due in large part to a couple of nagging injuries and some serious fatigue. Over these last few games, though, the 21-year-old center is starting to catch his stride again.
He has points in three straight games for the first time since the first week of March, he’s moving quicker, and he’s been more involved in the offensive zone. We saw his skating and aggression in Carolina’s game-winning goal in game four.
It was a smart play by the Finnish star, who drove to the middle, drew the attention of Washington’s defenders, and ultimately caused the breakdown that led to Teuvo Teravainen’s goal.
The Canes need more of that from Aho, especially with three of their top-nine forwards out of the lineup. It’s a gut check for Carolina’s high-end players.