I said on Monday that game six was “it”. It all came down to that game for the Carolina Hurricanes, fighting for their playoff lives and on the brink of elimination.
Now, this is “it”. Again. Welcome to playoff hockey.
Wednesday night, Carolina’s backs will be pinned up against the wall yet again, but now the same goes for the defending Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals on their home ice at Capital One Arena.
Given how these last few games (and every other game in every other series) have gone, it’s almost impossible to predict what what will happen in game seven, but the Hurricanes have a real chance to steal this series.
Here are some keys to a second-round birth for the Hurricanes.
In a seven-game series, you just can’t rely on a goaltender like Mrazek to steal every game or come up with a herculean effort on a nightly basis, but this is a one-game sample. For 60 minutes (and perhaps longer), the Hurricanes need Petr Mrazek to be the best player on the ice.
It’s been a tale of two buildings for Mrazek and the Canes through six games. At PNC Arena, the Czech backstop is undefeated with a .960 save percentage. At Capital One Arena, winless with an .833 save percentage. That absolutely has to change in game seven, and if it is to change, it will have to be apparent from the start. In those three road games, Mrazek has sported a .770 first-period save percentage and the Canes have been outscored 6-1 in the process.
Since December, Petr Mrazek has been one of the best goalies in the NHL, and he has to be the rock for the Canes again tonight against a high-octane Caps team that will be buzzing.
The Hurricanes have gotten to where they are now thanks, in part, to the dominance of their two star Finns up front - Sebastian Aho and Teuvo Teravainen.
To this point in the series, though, they’ve had their flashes, but they’ve largely just been good. Tonight would be the perfect time for them to be great, and there’s reason to believe that it’s coming.
In game six, the duo helped combined for a huge tide-turning goal early in the second period to knot up the score at two goals apiece, and from there they continued to show signs of returning to their game-breaking form. Most notably, they had a beautiful zone-entry passing play that resulted in a high-quality chance for Dougie Hamilton at the top of the slot.
With how excellent Washington’s top line, led by Nicklas Backstrom, has been this series, Carolina’s top line responding in a big way could be the difference. One bounce, one turnover, or one opportunity is all that Carolina’s dynamic duo needs to put their stamp on a game.
Do What Got You Here
The Carolina Hurricanes are the ones who aren’t supposed to be here. There’s a whole lot of pressure on Washington to pull this one out, especially after they blew an opportunity to do so in game six.
Rod Brind’Amour has said numerous times to date that these young players probably don’t really know what they’re doing and how special this situation is. That allows them to play with less pressure on them and to just play their game. When this team has played their game and gotten to it early, they’ve been a damn-hard team to beat. That’ll be the case tonight if they come out strong and can take control of things.
Of course, a big calming factor is having Mr. Game Seven on your side. Justin Williams’ work as the team’s captain should never be overlooked. He knows what he’s doing and he has countless experiences to feed off of in a situation like this. He’ll set the tone on the ice, in the locker room, and on the bench.
Tonight will be one hell of a challenge for the Hurricanes, and regardless of what happens, they’ve had a special season.
It would be pretty neat to see it continue in Brooklyn on Friday, though.