The past two Daily Cup of Joe Articles include additional thoughts on the transition from game 3 to game 4. Wednesday’s Daily Cup of Joe was entitled, “Setting up game 4 of the Hurricanes versus the Capitals.” And today’s Daily Cup of Joe has “Caps vs. Canes: Hurricanes players to watch.”
Setting the stage for what is at stake
Monday’s win is already in the books as a playoff classic. Nothing can change that. But in terms of playing their way back into the series, the work is only half complete. Another win at home on Thursday will pull the Hurricanes even and arguably even give them the upper hand with the momentum heading into game 5. But a loss regains momentum for the Caps and puts the Hurricanes facing a sizable hill needing to win three straight games with two in Washington. The margin between winning and losing is tiny this time of year and single games can carry the fate of how and when the season ends.
Shorter version — We have another HUGE playoff hockey game at PNC Arena in Raleigh tonight.
The two biggest questions entering game 4
(1) To what degree can the Hurricanes extend their momentum into game 4?
The Hurricanes were by far the better team on Monday, but things can and do change instantly in playoff hockey. The question is to what degree that will carry over to game 4.
(2) How do the Capitals respond/adjust?
The Capitals enter game 4 obviously needing something significantly different than game 3. Will the Caps try to dial up the physical and at times dirty play even higher and turn the series into a backyard brawl?
My watch points for the Thursday’s game build off of the previous two articles and also the questions above.
‘What I’m watching’ for the Carolina Hurricanes versus the Washington Capitals
1) The carry over out of the gate
The building will be rocking with fans hoping to just continue on with Monday’s fun. The Hurricanes should similarly come out with a ton of energy to fuel the same tenacious attack as Monday. The question is if and how quickly the Capitals can right the ship and push back. Ideal for the Hurricanes would be for this game to pick up right where game 3 left off such that the Capitals need to keep scratching and clawing to try to find a higher gear to match the Canes. Best case scenario is that the Hurricanes continue overwhelming the Caps and ride that momentum to an early lead. My specific watch points in this regard will very simply be to what degree each team can advance the puck from its own end versus the other team’s forecheck.
2) The effect of the saltiness and physical play / special teams play
One can be assured that part of the Capitals response will be further amped up physical play. Game 3 saw the Hurricanes lose two players to playoff attrition, and Micheal Ferland was the Hurricanes offset to Tom Wilson. No doubt the Hurricanes will need to match the Capitals in terms of physical play, but there is a right way and a wrong way to do it. The Hurricanes must be willing to take hits to make plays and must also finish their checks to keep things even. But despite being down 2-1, I think the Hurricanes have the upper hand right now by virtue of how dominant Monday’s win was. The Hurricanes must stay in that realm of just being a better hockey team inside the whistles and avoid being lured into a brawl that happens outside of the whistles and away from where the hockey is happening. The Hurricanes do need to stand up for each other, but in most cases the best way to make the Capitals play is to accept and capitalize on power play opportunities. The Hurricanes do not want to just trade power plays with the Capitals, but one-sided, Hurricanes only special teams affair would be welcome.If the Hurricanes refuse to engage in the extracurricular stuff for the most part and make it clear that they are just going to accept power play opportunities, the Capitals will lose that battle and be forced to find another path to winning again. As of right now but subject to change quickly, they do not have one.
3) Heroes rising up
I said before game 3 that the Hurricanes needed a couple stars to rise up and match what the Capitals’ leaders did through two games. Though the entire lineup played well, the player who rose up and led the way maybe surprisingly was Warren Foegele. He was the player who found a higher gear and produced in the early stages when the game was still being decided. He is one of a few who I noted in my players to watch. Justin Williams seems increasingly likely to play a role as the stakes increase too. Dougie Hamilton is playing his best hockey of the season and continuing his role as a sniper from the back end. But I really think Jordan Staal and Sebastian Aho are my players to watch for Thursday. The physical, rugged tone that the series is taking is right up Jordan Staal’s ally. As a player who has been waiting nearly a decade for this situation in a Hurricanes uniform, I think he rises up. After about 15 games of too quiet, Sebastian Aho seemed to re-find a higher gear in Monday’s win. He finally resumed wheeling around the offensive zone with the puck on his stick and being quick from the center line to the face-off dot off the rush. Could he be primed for a well-timed scoring resurgence?
4) The forecheck and ability to move the puck
Sitting behind all of the details, I think the foundation of the series is each team’s ability to move the puck against the other’s forecheck. I tagged the ability to move the puck as a key to success for both teams in the final part of my series preview, and I still think that decides the series. The Hurricanes won that battle by a massive margin on Monday. Part of the Capitals adjustments will be trying to at least navigate to the center line to get pucks deep and reestablish their forecheck. If the Caps can reestablish a forecheck the ice will untilt and the game will look significantly different. On the Hurricanes side of the ledger, the Canes will just be aiming for exactly the same as Monday. With all of the sub-plots now swirling around, I will first and foremost still be watching to see which team can best advance the puck and keep its opponent from doing so.
The puck drops at 7:07pm at PNC Arena.