With surprising and absolutely stunning respectively sweeps of the Pittsburgh Penguins and Tampa Bay Lightning completed on Tuesday, the Hurricanes have outlasted two teams in the 2018-19 playoffs.
And with Monday’s spectacular home playoff win for the team and fan base to enjoy, a good amount of playoff joy has already been gained on top of a fun regular season.
But following Monday’s dominant win now is not the time to settle and close; now is the time to push for much more.
Today’s Daily Cup of Joe sets the stage for game 4 of the Carolina Hurricanes versus the Washington Capitals.
Still nearly must win
Monday’s win assures the Hurricanes a respectable showing, but it really takes a follow up win to play their way into the series. The trajectory of the series will be wildly different depending on Thursday’s outcome. With a win, the Hurricanes will still need a home win to prevail but will very clearly have seized momentum and would enter a pivotal game 5 with a head of steam. With a loss, Monday’s win will fade into the background, and the Canes will need to win three straight including two in Washington, D.C. Needless to say, Thursday’s game is another huge one.
The carry over
Each game is its own entity in a playoff series, but that is not to say that momentum cannot carry forward to some degree. In terms of momentum heading into game 4, two things jump out at me from Monday’s win. First, the Hurricanes did not just catch a break or grind out a win. The Hurricanes dominated the Capitals. The game clearly showed that the Canes aggressive forecheck had the ability to decide games which gives the team every reason to try to pick up where it left off on Monday. Second, I think the final five minutes of the game were significant. With the game decided already, the Capitals pushed hard in the waning minutes to try at least get on the scoreboard but failed to do so. The shutout despite the push put an exclamation point on the win and gave the Capitals absolutely nothing in terms of something to build on heading into game 4 on Thursday.
So Thursday starts with the Hurricanes dictating play and the Capitals trying to reverse that.
The role of physical play
No doubt there will also be a carry over of the physical play from game 3. Especially with the need to disrupt the Canes rhythm from game 3, one can be assured that the Capitals will dial up the physical play early and see if the Hurricanes can be distracted. The Hurricanes need to answer physically before the whistle but at the same time avoid being goaded into unnecessary extracurricular activity after the whistle. With the referees letting crotch spears and blatant interference go with an overly egregious ‘let them play’ mentality, that will be challenging. But if the Capitals want to try to change momentum with extracurricular activity, the best possible outcome for the Canes would be to collect a couple power plays and jump out to a lead. That will punish the Capitals in a way that hurts most.
With both Andrei Svechnikov and Micheal Ferland leaving Monday’s game early and seemingly being uncertain for Thursday, the Hurricanes recalled Patrick Brown from Charlotte. Saku Maenalanen who was a healthy scratch on Monday is the other player ready to step into the lineup if Svechnikov and/or Ferland are unable to go on Thursday. Brown is arguably the least exciting option in terms of scoring upside, but he very much fits what Brind’Amour is doing right now. On Monday, the team’s offense was generated by the team’s forecheck and net front presence more so than skilled hockey plays. As a defensively competent forward with decent size, skating and ability to be plug and play on the forecheck, Brown brings another lunch pail forechecker.
The return of Sebastian Aho
I thought Sebastian Aho looked noticeably better on Monday. Back after a hiatus was his ability to be dangerous and generate scoring chances with his skating ability. With the Hurricanes in the series but still needing a next win, the timing could not be better for an Aho surge.
Foegele continues to play his best hockey at the most important time of year. He featured in all of the Hurricanes first three goals on Monday in scoring two himself and providing a full eclipse screen on the third goal which was scored by Dougie Hamilton.
Dougie Hamilton and the rest of the blue line
Dougie Hamilton looks incredibly ready in terms of matching playoff pace and making plays. His scoring is obviously welcome, but Hamilton has also been one of the better defensmen in terms of advancing the puck out of the defensive zone. That ability to advance the puck and avoid duress will only become more significant as the pressure rises. Past Hamilton, the blue line in general rose up in game 3. Though the forecheck earned top honors on Monday, the blue line also played a role stepping up behind the first layer of the forecheck to disrupt the puck whenever possible. The key for Thursday is just do more of the same but also to be careful not to get too far forward and open up vertical passing lanes in the process.
More of the same
I continue to think that the tipping point for the whole series is the who wins with their forecheck. On Monday, the Hurricanes used their forecheck to tilt the ice into the Capitals’ end for extended stretches. The Canes ability to again stymie the Capitals ability to move the puck could end up being the difference in game 4. If the Capitals are able to make adjustments and more regularly beat the Canes forecheck, the game becomes wildly different.
What say you Canes fans?
1) Do you think the Canes will be able to carry momentum into game 4?
2) What do you think of the decision to go with sound and steady and a decent fit for the forecheck in Patrick Brown instead of more scoring potential?
3) How do you expect the physical play to affect the rest of the series?