This article is part 3 of a set previewing the Carolina Hurricanes versus the Washington Capitals series.
Today’s article sort of combines the two and makes a short list for “The Canes will win the series if ___” and another short list for “The Canes will lose the series if ___.”
The Canes will win the series if _____
1) They can move the puck out of their own end and through the neutral zone successfully
I really think more than anything the series comes down to this. In the two recent match ups, the Capitals forechecking scheme had the Hurricanes baffled for significant stretches. The Caps did intermittently attack the puck aggressively, but at least equally so the Caps took away the first pass. The result was mostly a mess of the Hurricanes making errant passes, chucking the puck to space and hoping for the best or just turning it over. Brind’Amour and his crew have fresh experience and a decent amount of game tape to make adjustments. How the coaching staff and team handle this challenge has a domino effect. If the Hurricanes are unable to advance the puck cohesively and move in straight lines out of their own end, it obviously keeps the Hurricanes from playing much offense, but equally importantly, disjointed play through the neutral zone makes it nearly impossible to get in on the forecheck on dump ins.
2) They play a fast and aggressive brand of 5-on-5
When the Hurricanes are going well, the formula has most often been a fast-paced brand of 5-on-5 hockey. When the players can hit the higher gear, the Hurricanes can match pace with any team in the NHL and create problems for even the best of teams in terms of moving the puck out of their own end. The Hurricanes bread and butter is even strength hockey with pace to it. Here is hoping the Hurricanes can find that and maintain it throughout the series.
3) Petr Mrazek (possibly with help from McElhinney) can match Braden Holtby
Goaltending is always an X-factor in the playoffs. If Mrazek can continue his strong play and match or better Braden Holtby, a Capitals strength gets neutralized, and the Hurricanes gain the chance to steal a game or two.
The Canes will lose the series if ____
1) The series becomes a special teams battle
The Capitals roster has a number of good or even elite power play players. While the Hurricanes have the potential to match them if the good version of the Jekyl and Hyde power play shows up. But better is not to tempt fate with Alexander Ovechkin set up in his office and blasting away at the Hurricanes net.
2) The Caps win the forechecking battle
In the same vein as #1 in the ‘win’ section, the difference in the two recent losses was the Capitals ability to stymie the Hurricanes in their own end. If the Capitals again have the upper hand in this regard, the series becomes a challenging one for the Hurricanes. The combination of opportunistically generating scoring chances and at the same time keeping the Hurricanes from attacking is almost certainly a deadly one for the Canes.
3) Ovechkin thrives and Aho looks like he is just getting experience
A team’s best players very often decide playoff series. I think Aho is the Hurricanes best player, but he finished quietly. It is uncertain whether he just hit a bit of a wall or if he has an injury, but regardless, the Hurricanes need the mid-season version of Aho to counter Ovechkin and company. If Aho continues to be quiet, and Ovechkin thrives, the Hurricanes start from a sizable deficit that would be hard to overcome.
What say you Canes fans?
1) Which of these six factors do you see as most critical to deciding the series?
2) Which one(s) concern you most in terms of the Canes not performing well?
3) Who has additional ‘win if’ and ‘lose if’ items for the series?