Part 2 of my Canes versus Caps 2019 NHL playoff series preview looks inward at the Carolina Hurricanes as they forge into post season play.
1) Attitude is everything
In his post-game speech after the Hurricanes clinched a playoff berth, Head Coach Rod Brind’Amour briefly complimented the team on what it had accomplished and then very quickly started into a mini-rant with “We’re not done” as its focal point. The Hurricanes have had a great 2018-19 season already. Nothing that happens from here forward can change that. But for the Hurricanes to add to the initial accomplishment will require the team to temporarily put the regular season success behind them and look forward with the same hungry attitude as from January to March. Anything short of that will certainly doom the Hurricanes in round one of the 2019 NHL playoffs.
The burning question(s): Especially if things do not go well at points of the series, will this Hurricanes team take solace in what it accomplished this season or will it instead double down on determination and hunger?
2) Re-finding the highest gear
Thus far in the 2018-19 season, the Hurricanes played their best hockey in February. The team’s 12-3-0 record in February was better than March’s 9-6-1 mark. More significantly, the Hurricanes wins in March much more so relied on goalie heroics or catching a break or two and finding a way. The steadiness in February seemed to give way to a model that was more opportunistic than truly great. I have to think at least part of that was just some players being completely gassed after an extended run of winning hockey under pressure. Sebastian Aho has been noticeably quieter of late, and in total the team has not consistently played sound hockey. To beat a good Capitals team four out of seven games, the Hurricanes will need to re-find their peak play from February.
The burning question(s): Can the Hurricanes muster another big push in terms of quality of play?
3) The 3 Fs — Five on five and the forecheck.
The Hurricanes are at their best playing 5-on-5 hockey and using an aggressive forecheck to win puck possession and tilt the ice down into the offensive zone. When that goes well, the game looks easy for the Hurricanes, The Hurricanes can attack in waves, generate opportunistic offense and generally just not have to play as much defense with the play in the offensive zone. In the two recent losses to the Capitals, the Capitals were able to clog up the neutral and force a messy game without much chance for the Hurricanes to become faster and more mobile.
Burning question(s): Can Rod Brind’Amour and his staff make small tactical changes that enable the Hurricanes to more effectively move the puck from its own end?
4) Heroes rising up
Inevitably, winning a playoff series requires heroes rising up. Of late, Justin Williams has netted a few huge goals. Jordan Staal has also been producing at a high rate. And after a quiet middle part of the season, Warren Foegele is scoring goals. On the other side of the ledger, Sebastian Aho has faded a bit down the stretch. Here is hoping that it is the Canes can muster a couple timely heroes who can be the difference between life and death.
Burning question(s): With so many inexperienced players playoff-wise, can the Hurricanes muster enough heroes to lead the way in close games?
What say you Canes fans?
1) If you had to describe the Hurricanes just a couple of bullet points like I did, how would you do so?
2) What do you see as the Hurricanes biggest determinant of success in the first round of the playoffs?