In a season that has managed to meet expectations as well as wildly surpass them at the same time, the Carolina Hurricanes once again treated their fans to a spectacular show in Game 6 with their 5-2 defeat of the Washington Capitals. Now, the Canes must do what neither team has done in this series: Win on the road.
The Good: The Offense Springs to Life; Mrazek stout again
After going cold in a 6-0 shutout loss in Washington for Game 5, the Canes offense responded by putting four pucks past Braden Holtby on Monday, as well as an empty-netter for good measure. While the Caps jumped out on the board first, the Canes managed to respond with another clutch goal from Warren Foegele to break their scoring drought.
While the goal was technically not a power play tally, it did serve practically the same purpose as it came moments after Nic Dowd left the box for his hooking minor. While the Canes yielded another goal in the first on the rush from Alex Ovechkin to allow the Caps to nudge ahead again, the Canes again appeared on their heels against the hard-charging defending Cup champs.
But once the second period began, it was clear that the Carolina offense was much better equipped to compete. Despite the Caps controlling the action in the first, the Canes were able to knot the score again at 2-2 on a nifty steal and dish early in the second from Sebastian Aho to Teuvo Teravainen.
From that point on, the Canes appeared to outwork and outplay the Caps. Even in killing two penalties in the middle stanza, the Canes were able to find more open ice and maintain more possession in the offensive zone in the final two periods. Whereas the first period featured almost exclusively a series of unproductive dump-and-chase attempts, the last two periods featured a healthy mix of dumps, creative passing to enter the zone, and in some cases showcasing their speed to carry the puck in.
The third period began in similar fashion to the second as the Canes established their game in the offensive zone. Eventually, Jordan Staal was rewarded for his efforts to get to the front of the net. His physical play led to a rebound jam attempt that slipped past Holtby and proved to ultimately be the game-winner.
Not to be outdone, Captain Justin Williams added the much needed insurance marker much in the same theme of the Staal goal. Williams fought his way in front of Holtby and deflected Brett Pesce’s shot through the five-hole with just eight minutes remaining.
As you can probably tell by this point, there is little mystery as to how the Hurricanes are able to create offense in this series. Scoring off of creating turnovers (Teravainen) and hard work in getting to the net (Staal and Williams) are the keys to offensive success for the Canes. If they can establish some semblance of a forecheck and get to their spot in front of Holtby when offensive possession is established, the Canes will have a chance against the Caps no matter where the game is played.
On the other end of the ice, Petr Mrazek continued his tremendous play in net. Stopping 23 of 25 shots, Mrazek did not yield a goal in the final two stanzas. His key stop of John Carlson during four-on-four action just prior to the end of the second period preserved the tie score, as he received a little bit of help from his friend, the crossbar, to turn away a last second chance from Tom Wilson as the period came to a close. Maintaining the even score at the end of the second was crucial, and while Mrazek was rock-solid in the third period as well, that sequence from him may have been his most important work of the evening.
The Better: Fourth Line Survives
Having Jordan Martinook back was clearly an emotional boost for the Canes, and you could tell Martinook was fired up to get out there.
Jordan Martinook has returned. pic.twitter.com/QtCjCvCEaj— Brett Finger (@brett_finger) April 22, 2019
His assist on the empty-netter from Dougie Hamilton was appropriate because of the lift he gave the entire team. What may be lost in his return for just under 15 minutes of action is that it allowed Rod Brind’Amour to push Saku Maenalanen back down to the fourth line with Greg McKegg and Patrick Brown.
While the fourth line was not particularly productive (each player was neutral on +/-), they were able to provide valuable minutes. Each player contributed two shots on goal, and they were factors in pushing the puck into the Washington end on a number of occasions.
You obviously want to have your best players on the ice more, and with players such as Aho, Teravainen, and Staal each playing 24 shifts or more (compared to the 13-15 shifts for Brown, McKegg, and Maenalanen), Brind’Amour is clearly doing this. But having solid, competent play from that fourth line is critical, and certainly a point of emphasis with Andrei Svechnikov and Micheal Ferland still missing. It is important that Brind’Amour can trust those guys for 7-10 of ice time, and not have to shrink it down to 3-4 minutes, as that will further tax the top lines that must be at their absolute best to come away with a win in Game 7.
The Best: Perfect At Home
This article is generally reserved for hard analysis of the previous night’s game, and certainly this last section could have been held out for the controversial waved off goal that could have tied the game for the Caps in the third period or perhaps the slashing penalty and game misconduct for berating the officials issued to Ovechkin at the end of the contest.
But it only feels right to try and put this in perspective in case this is the final home game of what has been a magical season. Rarely is the connective tissue between a team and it’s fans so evident. The home crowds have had an impact on the game. Just look to Brind’Amour himself for confirmation.
Asked Brind'Amour something specific about the team and he talked about it for a little then out of nowhere goes— Sara Civ (@SaraCivian) April 23, 2019
"Being at home...I just can't believe how...it's a huge deal, the crowd here. You can feel it on the bench, you can feel the energy it gives our players."
But the exciting thing isn’t just the loud and big crowds. Most playoff teams have that. It is certainly never a given, but it is expected. What has been unprecedented is the way in which this particular team has rekindled a fire within what had been a dormant and depressed fan base. This team encouraged their fans to believe again. And with the persistent nature of their play, they have earned themselves one more shot at dethroning the defending Stanley Cup Champions.
Jordan Martinook said last night, “this is what we play for.” But for the long-suffering Caniacs, this is what they have continued to watch for. On Wednesday night, Canes fans will be watching their team battle yet again.