–More than anything, this was a team win. After being unable to respond in Saturday’s loss, the Hurricanes punched back on Monday such that when the Capitals pulled ahead twice, the Canes just fought harder.
–Jordan Staal was the best player in the game. He did the heavy lifting in a game that required a bunch of heavy, and of course the game-winning goal was a big contribution too.
–The Hurricanes defense just completed a run of three home games holding down a very good offense. All six of the defensemen played well. It will be critical to carry that over to the road on Wednesday.
– The pressure is now on the Caps more so than the Canes. Despite the three road losses, Wednesday’s game is a 50/50 shot. Game 7s are a unique animal. Any kind of random first goal off a skate or whatever can start a game 7 on a path to its final outcome.
Playoff hockey brings back so many memories. Based on the recent drought, one might not expect it, but the Hurricanes history is rich with absolutely tremendous playoff memories. Each and every time the Hurricanes have made the playoffs (yes, I realize it has not been often enough) has been absolutely spectacular. And on cue, the 2019 playoffs are living up to that reputation.
In thinking about Hurricanes playoff history on Monday afternoon, Monday’s game if it ended in a loss would have been very reminiscent of the 2001 playoffs. In the 2001 playoffs, the Hurricanes faced the Devils who were the defending Stanley Cup Champions. Prior to the start of the series, the experts gave the Hurricanes no chance. Each and every place that had multiple people picking series winners unanimously selected the Devils. And the series basically went that way with the Devils handily winning games 1 and 2 at home and then laying the lumber to the Canes in game 3 in Raleigh. Throw in concussions to Shane Willis and Ron Francis, and the series seemed destined for an early ending with very little for joy for Canes fans who had yet to experience NHL playoff hockey in Raleigh. (The 1999 playoffs were in Greensboro.) But an undermanned Canes squad led by Rod Brind’Amour dug deep and won game 4 at home and then more surprisingly game 5 in New Jersey. In the process, Canes fans got their first taste of the goodness of playoff hockey, and the series pushed to game 6 in Raleigh. The Hurricanes lost game 6 at home to end the series, but the ending arguably ranks as the single greatest loss in team history. Coming out of a TV timeout late in the game, the fans who remained despite the lopsided score in favor of the Devils started cheering and did so louder and louder for the rest of the game. The game was a loss. The series was a loss. But the season was a huge win, and the fan base appreciated that. That season and game played a huge role in building the special relationship between the fan base and the team. Fast forward 18 years, and this season feels very much like that 2001 season doing some combination of building on the previous team/fan relationship and to some degree just forging a new one given the long playoff drought. Had the Hurricanes lost on Monday night, I 100 percent trust that the Caniac Nation would have done the right thing and sent the 2018-19 Carolina Hurricanes off with a massive round of appreciative applause.
But even better, in the end Monday’s win conjured up memories of a different New Jersey Devils game. Alexander Ovechkin losing his cool and picking up a frustration slashing penalty and then a game misconduct was reminiscent of game 4 of the 2009 Eastern Conference Finals. In that game, Jussi Jokinen scored with 0.2 seconds remaining. Brodeur thought he was interfered with on the play. After the goal was reviewed to see if Jokinen scored before the period ended and declared a goal, Brodeur skated toward the boards on his right and broke his stick on the boards before stomping off angrily into the same tunnel that Ovechkin stomped through at the end of Monday’s win.
If the Hurricanes season ends on home ice with a loss, the team has very much earned the same ovation as the 2001 series, but Canes fans have to be ecstatic about the game ultimately more matching up the Brodeur stick-smashing win.
As with any game, there are any number of details on the path to the game’s final outcome, but at the end of the day Monday’s win was about the Hurricanes pushing back and showing resolve and resiliency.
In Saturday’s loss, the Capitals came out aggressively and figuratively punched the Canes in the mouth, and the Canes had no response. On Monday when the Capitals punched the Canes in the mouth, the Canes stood up to them and punched back. Early in the game, each Capitals check was met with a Hurricanes check. And when the Capitals scored, the Hurricanes just dialed up the intensity and fought back. That wherewithal was the difference on a night when the Hurricanes fell behind twice but eventually pushed their way to the top.
After a fairly even start that saw both teams going toe to toe, the Capitals scored first when the Hurricanes had issues sorting things out defending the rush. On the play, Sebastian Aho was the first forward back and initially went to cover Brett Connolly. But when Aho left Connolly to chase the Caps player with the puck who was already covered by Trevor van Riemsdyk, the result is a wide open Connolly who finished to give the Caps a 1-0 lead. But home hero Warren Foegele struck next when the power play redeemed itself. After an extended stretch of offensive zone puck possession but maybe too much hesitance to shoot, Dougie Hamilton did shoot but had his shot blocked. When the rebound caromed right to Foegele, he made no mistake shooting through traffic to tie the game at 1-1. But the Capitals struck next when the Hurricanes again struggled to defend the rush. First, Hamilton tried to step up in the neutral zone but missed. Then, Jaccob Slavin tried to go down to away any passing lanes for Ovechkin. But the heady Ovechkin just pulled the puck back, walked around a sliding Slavin and deposited the puck behind goalie Petr Mrazek. The Hurricanes were better as the period wore on and exited the first period with decent momentum but a 2-1 deficit on the scoreboard.
Though not as dominant, the second period reminded me of the second period in game 3. The Hurricanes were the aggressor and better team. Teuvo Teravainen scored only 1:56 into the second period when Sebastian Aho picked a Caps defender’s pock on the forecheck and quickly fed the puck to a slashing Teravainen for a bang-bang goal. The Hurricanes had the upper hand for the remainder of the second period but were unable to score.
The 2-2 score entering the third period set the stage for a winner-takes-all period. Only 3:51 into the third period Jordan Staal was finally rewarded for his strong night around the puck. A Justin Faulk shot found it way to the front of the net where Brock McGinn managed to get a skate on it. The puck was then retrieved and quickly deposited into the net by Staal. The Hurricanes would add another goal via a nifty deflection by Justin Williams on a Brett Pesce shot-pass. That goal relieved pressure and charted a course to a win. An empty-netter by Hamilton closed out the scoring with a 5-2 final score.
The Hurricanes win sets up a game 7 in Washington, D.C. on Wednesday.
Player and other notes
1) Jordan Staal
He rightfully won the first star. In a heavy game, Jordan Staal brought the heavy. He was strong all night in terms of winning pucks of the boards and advancing the puck up the ice. His game-winning goal was just icing on the case for a strong run.
2) The fourth line and Saku Maenalanen
The fourth line was especially good and earned ice time because of it. All three players were good, but Maenalanen in particular played a strong game that I say was his best as a Hurricanes player despite not scoring. He was physical on the boards and also able to bang bodies a bit. When you get a chance, rewatch the Ovechkin ejection. Maenalanen just following Ovechkin up the ice as he lost his cool is absolutely classic.
Best part of Alexander Ovechkin's ejection was Saku Maenalanen turning to just look at him and then following him up the ice just sort of gawking at Ovi as he lost it. Who was the rookie here? #TakeWarning https://t.co/OtYTd47mTs
— Canes and Coffee (@CanesandCoffee) April 23, 2019
3) Clutch scoring
Down a goal early, Foegele’s goal was well-timed after the Capitals scored. Similarly, Teravainen erased the second Capitals lead with another clutch goal. Finally, Staal and Williams chalked up the game-winner and the insurance. In games like this, the moral victories for great shifts count for very little. It is about putting the puck in the net which the Canes did.
The Pesce/Faulk duo was strong from the outset and played well throughout the game. The defense in total had another strong game on home ice.
5) Scoring leaders arrive
Aho had the assist and Teravainen the goal on the game-tying goal in the second period. Williams scored in the third period to provide some cushion. Two goals by the trio that started the series on the first line was the difference in the game.
6) A favorable history
As I said on Twitter, the Hurricanes are 4-0 in playoff game 7s. Meanwhile on the other side of the ledger, prior to last season the Capitals had a reputation as a team that could not win the big game. If the Hurricanes score first on Wednesday, could that unleash the demons suggesting that the despite the 2018 championship the Capitals are still a fragile bunch?
Next up is a 7:30pm start on Wednesday that features John Forslund calling the game.