Welcome to part six of our Carolina Hurricanes season simulation in NHL 20.
For more information on how all of this works, please refer to part one of the series.
The Hurricanes and Capitals exit D.C. and arrive to Raleigh with a first-round series knotted up at a game apiece. Carolina is fresh off of a rousing bounce-back effort in game two, and its looking to build off of that big win.
Of course, Washington won’t roll over. The series is really just beginning.
Here’s how games three and four played out.
Fresh off of a game two victory in D.C., the Hurricanes saw home-ice advantage switch to their side for games three and four. That advantage was particularly present in game three.
The Jordan Staal line started the game by quickly establishing puck possession in the Caps’ zone. They forced an offensive zone face off to the right of Braden Holtby, and Rod Brind’Amour turned to the Sebastian Aho line for a shot of offense.
Aho won the offensive zone face off cleanly to Dougie Hamilton before darting to the net and beating Michal Kempny to a well-placed pass from Hamilton and scooping it over the the outstretched left pad of Holtby to make it 1-0 just 42 seconds into the game.
Carolina didn’t let up as the first period neared the midway point. They were outshooting the Capitals 9-2 with just over nine minutes to go in the period, and that’s where they added to their lead.
Vincent Trocheck won a neutral zone face off to Haydn Fleury, who rimmed the puck around the Caps’ zone. Nino Niederreiter won a board battle for possession, which set up Martin Necas with time and space along the boards to Holtby’s left. He then threaded a gorgeous back door return feed to an unmarked Niederreiter.
The Hurricanes very nearly extended their lead to three goals late in the opening frame, but Jaccob Slavin’s shot rang off of the post and out of play with 1:38 on the clock.
Carolina dominated the opening frame, outshooting Washington 16-8 and outscoring them 2-0.
The Capitals responded with a much more competitive second period, but Petr Mrazek was excellent. He faced nine shots in the first eight minutes of the period - more than he faced through the entirety of the first period. His biggest save was on a Jakub Vrana breakaway which was the result of a bad long line change from Carolina.
The Canes weathered the storm before ultimately clamping late in the period, holding onto a 2-0 lead through forty minutes.
A strong all-around showing from the Hurricanes in the third period was led by Hamilton. He had a team-high 9:41 of ice time in the period and found the back of the net early. He unleashed a long-range, power-play dart on Holtby that snuck through traffic and beat Holtby clean on the glove-side.
Just under four minutes later, he delivered a stretch pass at the tail end of a long, grinding defensive zone shift against the Alex Ovechkin line directly to the tape of a springing Andrei Svechnikov. Svech made a move to the backhand before pulling the puck back and sliding it through Holtby’s legs to make it a 4-0 game.
Penalties to Jordan Martinook and Brock McGinn gifted Washington 1:29 of 5-on-3 time. Hamilton was on the ice for all but 15 seconds of that time and Carolina limited Washington to just two shots on goal.
The only story left to be told was in net for the Hurricanes, and for the sellout PNC Arena crowd, it was a happy ending. Mrazek posted a 33-save shutout in game three as Carolina closed out a 4-0 win to take a 2-1 series lead.
Hamilton was the game’s best skater. In 28:27 of ice time, he had a goal and two assists en route to shutting down Ovechkin and company alongside Jaccob Slavin.
The Canes didn’t have a series lead until the end of game seven in last year’s playoff series, but they secured a lead in three games this time around.
The Hurricanes had a chance to put their foot down on the Capitals. They were up 2-1 and just had one of their best games of the year in game three.
It looked like that effort would repeat itself early in game four.
Teuvo Teravainen opened the scoring 5:32 into the first period off on a two-on-one rush that was sprung by Hamilton. Teravainen looked off Svechnikov and instead rifled a near-side shot over Holtby’s glove.
Penalty trouble went on to really dampen their strong start, though. Brind’Amour’s group got whistled for too many men on the ice at 13:02. That penalty was killed, but the Capitals gained momentum and eventually forced Carolina’s hand on another power play.
John Carlson put the puck in Ovechkin’s wheelhouse in the early stages of the power play, and the rebound bounced back into the low slot, where T.J. Oshie hammered home the game-tying goal with about three minutes left in the period.
Carolina continued to watch their play tailspin in the second period, wherein they fell victim to what Brind’Amour refers to as “taking a breath”. Washington scored twice in 74 seconds, starting with a deflection in the high slot by Lars Eller that bounced through the legs of a screened Mrazek.
A turnover at the offensive blue line from Jake Gardiner moments later led to a dagger goal from Ovechkin on an odd-man rush. Ovi’s tally took the air out of the building and the Hurricanes opted to take a timeout.
That didn’t help them, though, as they went onto being outshot 12-5 in the second period en route to a two-goal deficit entering the third period.
The Hurricanes looked like a different club as the third period commenced, forcing Holtby to stand on his head - which he did.
Just like Carolina did with a two-goal lead in game three, Washington weathered the storm and did enough to keep the puck out of their own net. The Canes’ best chance came from the stick of Warren Foegele late in the third period, but he roofed Staal’s centering feed just a few inches over the crossbar.
The Canes pulled Mrazek for an extra attacker with two minutes left in the game, but they weren’t able to get the equalizer. Carl Hagelin salted the game away with an empty-net goal with 40 seconds left.
Both teams split games at their respective venues through four games, rendering a tied series heading back to the nation’s capital for game five.
Mrazek was good, but he didn’t get much in the way of help. He made 28 saves on 31 shots. Holtby was fantastic in net for Washington after allowing the early goal to Teravainen. He ended up with 34 saves.
Game four was an absolute must win for the Capitals, and they came through with perhaps their best complete game of the series.
Yet again, the Hurricanes and Capitals are battling it out in a pressure cooker atmosphere, and it promises to get even tighter for game five.