An NHL season is a months-long odyssey which dawns in the fall of one year and ends in the spring of another. One more win tonight will guarantee that the Carolina Hurricanes prolong their season for a few weeks longer.
It’s been almost ten years since the Canes last played in a game seven. That one - also on the road - ended with a Scott Walker OT winner. Many of the Canes’ best post-season series (shameless plug) have concluded with Game 7 wins. The franchise is a remarkable 4-0 in Game 7s since relocating from Hartford.
To push that record to 5-0, the Canes will need to win on the road. Although not an issue in the regular season - the Canes posted a franchise record 22 road wins this season, surpassing even the ‘05-06 Cup winners (21) - the Canes have not been able to carry that regular season success over to the series against the Caps. In particular, consider the play of arguably the Canes’ two most important players - Sebastian Aho and Petr Mrazek.
In the three games in Washington, Aho has one goal, no assists and is -4. Mrazek has allowed 13 goals on 78 shots, for a save percentage of .833 and a goals against average of 4.33. The simple truth is obvious. They both - especially Mrazek - must be better tonight for the Canes to win. There are many reasons the Canes are 4-0 in Game 7s since relocation but the most significant is that they had Cam Ward starting those games. Mrazek will now need to put together a road effort which will equal what he has already done at home in the series.
In terms of availability, the status of Micheal Ferland and Andrei Svechnikov remains unknown, although neither is likely to play. The prudent thing is to keep both out if there is any question, because the worst thing in a Game 7 scenario is to lose a forward (or two) and then be forced to juggle lines the remainder of the game.
Below is the Canes’ projected lineup:
Nino Niederreiter - Sebastian Aho - Teuvo Teravainen
Brock McGinn - Jordan Staal - Justin Williams
Warren Foegele - Lucas Wallmark - Jordan Martinook
Patrick Brown - Greg McKegg - Saku Maenalanen
Jaccob Slavin - Dougie Hamilton
Brett Pesce - Justin Faulk
Calvin de Haan - Trevor van Riemsdyk
Scratches: Andrei Svechnikov (concussion protocol), Micheal Ferland (upper body), Haydn Fleury (healthy)
Washington is expected to send out the same lineup from Game 6. Braden Holtby has recorded a 1.81 goals against average and .934 save percentage in seven career Game 7s. The Caps’ special teams have been scorching in the prior three games at home. They’ve converted 5/12 (41.7%) on the powerplay and killed off 12/13 (92.3%) penalties. Penalties can completely change a Game 7 - just ask Vegas fans about last night - so the Canes must stay on their discipline and out of the box. The Canes and Caps will see each other again next season - tonight is not the time for reprisals.
Here’s how Washington will line up tonight:
Alex Ovechkin - Nicklas Backstrom - Tom Wilson
Jakub Vrana - Evgeny Kuznetsov - Carl Hagelin
Andre Burakovsky - Lars Eller - Brett Connolly
Chandler Stephenson - Nic Dowd - Devante Smith-Pelly
Jonas Siegenthaler - John Carlson
Dmitry Orlov - Matt Niskanen
Brooks Orpik - Nick Jensen
Scratches: Michal Kempny (hamstring surgery), T.J. Oshie (collarbone surgery), Christian Djoos (healthy), Travis Boyd (healthy), Dmitrij Jaskin (healthy)
Final Note: If this doesn’t fire you up for the game, I’m sorry...