Quick hitters posted shortly after game ended
–The Hurricanes looked overwhelmed and disoriented out of the gate, and that more than anything was the difference. The Canes fairly quickly got their feet under them about halfway through the first period, but starting from a 2-0 deficit again is tough sledding against a good hockey team.
–How the Hurricanes survived and actually won the second period is surprising and had the potential to be a ‘resiliency’ type turning point somehow playing almost half of the period shorthanded but still netting the period’s only goal. That could have been the series turning point if the Hurricanes could have scored first in the third period and held on.
–Winning: The penalty kill did yeoman’s work keeping the team in the game in the second period. Petr Mrazek was phenomenal down the stretch. The forecheck was disruptive at times.
–Losing: The Caps best players are still deciding the outcome. In the instances when the Caps did beat the first layer of the forecheck, the Hurricanes were largely a mess trying to defend off the rush or against a secondary attack in their own end.
Perhaps realizing that they were lucky to escape with a win with only one really good period in the series opener, the Capitals came out on Saturday looking to aggressively attack early. From the opening face-off, the Capitals played fast and aggressive especially in transition. The result was a dicey start for the Hurricanes who looked some combination of overwhelmed and disoriented. Nicklas Backstrom scored his third of the series with another back door tap in when the Canes lost track of him at the side of the net. Then T.J. Oshie sniped a shot past Mrazek skating in mostly uncontested off the rush to make it 2-0 Capitals less than 10 minutes into the game. Washington could easily have had another goal or two during that opening stretch that saw the Hurricanes defense look baffled trying to defend in transition. The formula for the Capitals right now when they can beat the forecheck with numbers is to push the puck with pace up the sides and leave the center lane open for players to slash into from the sides. But with the game seemingly destined for a 7-1 slaughter, the Hurricanes found the on button about midway through the first period and surged from there. The two halves of the first period could not have been any more opposite. Courtesy of a couple power plays and being jolted awake, the Hurricanes out-shot the Capitals by a 10 to 2 margin after the Capitals second goal. More significantly, Lucas Wallmark tipped a shot past Braden Holtby to get the Hurricanes back to within 2-1 to end the first period after a treacherous start.
The second period was outright bizarre. Micheal Ferland took a penalty early to kick off a special teams second period with a penalty only 1:11 into the second period. Shortly after returning to the ice, Ferland was whistled for a 5-minute major for coming across the ice looking to annihilate a Nic Dowd. When the puck rolled ahead of Dowd, the hit became a borderline interference call. And when Dowd lowered his head to reach for the puck, the check became a potential head shot. And that is what the referees called after meeting as a group. Ferland picked up a five-minute major and a game misconduct. But here’s the thing – the contact was not to the head. Upon first seeing the replay on his bench monitor and then being told about the call, Brind’Amour went ballistic. He very regularly looks intense, but this was a whole different level. The Hurricanes spent six of the first eight minutes of the second period on the penalty kill. When Dougie Hamilton took an elbowing minor later, that escalated to eight out of less than 14 minutes. But the Hurricanes penalty kill and Petr Mrazek rose up and stood tall keeping the Hurricanes in the game. When the settled on the run of penalty kill time, the Hurricanes had to feel fortunate to still be within a goal. That situation became even better when Sebastian Aho found a small opening through Holtby from the side of the net. Had you told me that the Hurricanes would have to kill off eight minutes of penalties in the second period, I would have figured the Hurricanes would be being beaten handily. Instead despite the 16 to 6 Caps shot advantage in the second period, the Hurricanes won the period 1-0 and entered the third period tied at 2-2.
The third period saw the Capitals resume attacking at even strength. Again, the Canes defense in transition looked porous at times. But Mrazek found his higher gear and did whatever it took to keep the puck out of his net. His saves included a big swipe with the glove the get a piece, a save reaching out with the pad, quickly taking away any angle from point blank range and a couple other dandies. But the Caps struck next off the rush when the Canes again had trouble sorting things out in transition. The result was a Tom Wilson goal off of a 3-on-2. After failing twice to score a tying goal on a power play late in Thursday’s loss, the Canes received another chance late in Saturday’s game. This time, the Canes capitalized when Jordan Staal tipped a Dougie Hamilton shot past Holtby to tie the game at 3-3 with exactly five minutes to go in regulation. The finish would see the Capitals challenge again, but Petr Mrazke holding the fort to set up overtime hockey.
The Capitals would score a heartbreaking goal only 1:48 into overtime when villain Brooks Orpik received a pass coming in off the bench, took advantage of Teuvo Teravainen not having a stick and fired a shot through traffic to win the game.
In the playoffs, there are no OTL points, so the loss and 0-2 series deficit are obviously not ideal. But on a positive note, the Hurricanes have played the Capitals pretty evenly despite digging sizable early holes in both games. And the fact that playoff hockey is returning to Raleigh is in itself reason for optimism.
Player and other notes
1) Lucas Wallmark
He now has three points in two games and is making assertive plays with the puck on his stick in terms of distributing to line mates. I think it is fair to say that he has been more noticeable offensively than Aho through two games despite Aho’s goal on Saturday. He also won 13 out of 15 face-offs for 87 percent which assures that his line would mostly play with the puck instead of defending.
2) The penalty kill
The way the second period went down was a recipe for a 5-1 Capitals blow out. But the Canes penalty killers did yeoman’s work keeping the team in the game. Slavin logged 6:41 of penalty kill ice time on the way to 28:54 total. Pesce logged 5:22 on the penalty kill and stepped in front and blocked six shots. Faulk logged 4:41 of ice time shorthanded. The group in total gave the Hurricanes a chance even when the officials decided to be a bigger part of the game than necessary in the second period.
3) Petr Mrazek
He was lights out in the second half of the game. When the Capitals pushed in transition in the third period, Mrazek had an answer for everything regardless of the defense in front of him. He was not horrible in game 1, but his game 2 performance was at least one notch higher because of his late-game heroics.
As much as Pesce and Faulk were good on the penalty kill, they were victimized by the Capitals transition game on Saturday. The first Caps goal was eerily reminiscent of a similar back door goal (except on the power play) on Thursday with the defensemen leaving a passing lane wide open. Part of it was the Capitals ability to transition quickly and get behind the forwards, but even given the tough situations a few times, Pesce/Faulk had a tough time defending speed coming at them. It will be interesting to see if Brind’Amour considers changing things up at home where he can better dictate match ups.
5) Micheal Ferland
The major and misconduct were a significant error on the part of the officials, but I still think that Ferland needs a bit of a reset. On the one hand, his big hits are a positive for the Canes. But on the other hand, he seems a bit over-focused on trying to deliver massive checks instead of just letting the game and the hits come to him. He has the potential to be valuable as a scoring power forward and needs to make sure he dials up that part of his game too.
6) Is it over?
In a word, no. The 0-2 deficit is a big one, and winning four out of five against the Capitals rightfully sounds like a daunting task. But the Hurricanes have been right there in both games after digging early holes. With a better start, ideally the first goal of the game and maybe a bounce or two, the Hurricanes can climb right back into it.
Next up is a HOME PLAYOFF GAME IN RALEIGH on Monday!