After getting thumped 6-0 in a pivotal game 6 in Washington, D.C. on Saturday, the Hurricanes return home for game 6 in what is now a potential handshake game.
As one might expect based on the score, Saturday’s loss was bad in many respects but what jumps out at me most are two things. First was the Hurricanes inability to match the Caps in terms of intensity and physical play and therefore their complete inability to really push back at any point in the game. Second and somewhat related, the Hurricanes forecheck is very clearly the pillar upon which the team’s success is built right now. When the forecheck is winning, the Hurricanes are capable of smothering even good teams. But when the forecheck is ineffective, the Hurricanes are suddenly very light on offensive fire power and vulnerable on defense, especially off the rush.
No doubt, the Hurricanes trajectory looking back only two days is not good and suggest an end to the series on Monday night in Raleigh. But that is also very short-sighted. Game 3 was one of the Hurricanes best all season, and the Canes were far and away better than the Capitals on that night. That was exactly seven days ago. And though not as dominant, the Hurricanes grinding 2-1 win in game 4 was also a solid effort that proved they could also beat the Caps with less than a perfect night. That was a mere four days ago. So anyone who feels like this series is over based on Saturday’s debacle needs only extend his/her memory by about five days.
Shorter version: For the Hurricanes faithful — Give this team a chance. The team deserves it. In addition, they have demonstrated with results that a bounce back is possible based on past results.
My watch points for yet another huge home game which is a true must-win are here.
‘What I’m watching’ for the Carolina Hurricanes versus the Washington Capitals
1) Resolve and determination
As noted above, the Hurricanes really did not have an answer then the Capitals attacked out of the gate on Saturday. With the physicality of the series, the thrashing in game 5 and the need to now win two straight, the chance is there for the Hurricanes to start feeling content about what has truly been a great season. By no means is a win guaranteed on Monday, but I will be greatly surprised if this team does not dig down and lay it on the ice on Monday. Nevertheless, the first check point in Monday’s game is the Hurricanes reaction, so I will be watching early to see how the Canes respond.
2) The forecheck
In this series, there is no greater determinant of Hurricanes success than the team’s forechecking success. When the forecheck is effective, everything else falls into place. When the Caps can consistently beat the first layer of the forecheck, they gain the upper hand and chinks in the Hurricanes’ armor become plain to see. More than anything, I will be watching to see if the Hurricanes can regain the forechecking effectiveness from games 3 and 4. That more than any other single factor dictates the outcome of game 6.
3) Seeking heroes
I have written multiple times about how games and series are more often than not decided by which team’s best players play better. In total, the Caps stars have outplayed the Canes top players. But Warren Foegele rose up as an unlikely star and took the lead in propelling the Canes to two huge home wins. Best case is that the Canes top scorers awake just in time to carry the team to two wins and a stunning series win. But as Warren Foegele demonstrated last week and players including Niclas Wallin, Kevin Weekes, Josef Vasicek and others in years past, the title of playoff hero is there to be claimed by anyone who steps on the ice in a playoff game. The Hurricanes need a hero of two right now, so I will be watching to see who steps up.
4) Sticking to and winning 5-on-5
The Hurricanes power play struggled in game 5. The Caps scored in bunches. Dating back to my original series preview, the Hurricanes are much better off playing even strength hockey. The Hurricanes need to stay focused and avoid penalties from extracurricular activities and need to clean up the sloppy penalties to keep the game at even strength. Then they need to get back to work using their speed and aggressiveness to win puck battles and the territorial battle.
The puck drops at 7:07pm at PNC Arena.