The regular season is over and the Carolina Hurricanes have drawn the Washington Capitals in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs. What can be in store of the first playoff series for the Hurricanes since 2009?
To be the man, you have to beat the man. When it comes to lifting 35 pounds of silver and being named Stanley Cup Champions, the Carolina Hurricanes get the first shot at the current defending champs. While most hockey fans are considering it an easy win for the Washington Capitals, there is a lot to consider when it comes to the challenging team.
Everyone knows how dangerous the Washington Capitals are. They have the season leading goal-scorer in the form of Alex Ovechkin. They rank fifth overall in goal scoring this year, second overall in the east. Only the league leading Tampa Bay Lightning are higher in the east in goal scoring. Carolina is 16th in the league and 9th in the east in those regards.
Makes it sound like a slam dunk win for the Capitals right? Not so fast. While the Capitals seem to have offense locked up, Carolina has the defense. Between the blue-liners and the netminding Carolina has allowed the Seventh least goals through 82, Fourth in the east. Petr Mrazek is eighth in the league in GAA and tied for tenth in shutouts.
This series will be a true battle of unstoppable force vs immovable object. The defending champions will not have an easy time against the Carolina Hurricanes. Right off the bat, they will have a difficult challenge as former Capital Justin Williams leads the Hurricanes into Washington and then back home at PNC Arena.
Speaking of PNC arena, the final home game of the season gave the league a taste of what comes when the Carolina Hurricanes storm back into the Playoffs. Vegas might call it’s home ice “the fortress”, but it will never be as loud as “the loudest arena in the NHL”. No team barn earns that moniker on a whim. Its been proven time and again. And for the first time in ten years; it will be again.
The ice in PNC is ready. A fresh set of paint coats the ice as the Carolina Hurricanes get set for at least play games three and four of the series on home ice. Game six will also be played there if necessary. All Carolina Puck drops will be at the normal 7pm times. The partying and tailgating will not be. Expect people to be there long before the game begins.
Just look at that fresh sheet of ice. That glorious logo and the words “Stanley Cup Playoffs 2019” etched into it. It has never felt so right. Yet for most fans, it still feels very surreal. While the team has already practiced on it, the rest of us will have to wait until the halfway mark of the month to enjoy it in all its glory.
Will the Washington Capitals be able to survive the onslaught of screaming fans deafening the arena? Each incredible save by either Curtis McElhinney or Petr Mrazek will have the fans on their feet thundering. Each goal scored by Sebastian Aho or Andrei Svechnikov will send an echoing cheer that might cause structural damage. Will the Capitals be able to focus in PNC?
It has been noted that the 2006 Stanley Cup Championship banner was a little crooked hanging off the rafters. How that came to be is strange. The most interesting theory to how it came to be that I have read is that the banner itself is not actually crooked at all. The PNC Arena was the one teetering off its axis thanks to the roar of the crowd.
The crowd will not be the only thing the Washington Capitals will have to contend with when they come down to Raleigh to fight for the right to defend their title further than the first round. They will also have to face the Carolina Hurricane’s black third uniforms that have seen a record of 11-2-2 in the 15 times they wore them in the season.
That is right, the Carolina Hurricanes will don the black uniforms for their playoff run and hope to wear them for at least another eight more games. If their regular season record in them carries forward into the post season, that may very well happen.
The Washington Capitals only watched against this uniform once before. In their very first bout against the Carolina Hurricanes back on December. That game was probably one of the most difficult wins for the Capitals. They had to come back from a three goal deficit in a game that was eventually taken into overtime and a shootout.
Since that game a lot has changed and both teams are more well rounded and well built. But this isn’t a single game. This is a best out of seven series. That’s the great thing about hockey. Once the playoffs start, it becomes a completely different game. The winner of this series will be the team that can outlast the other.
In that regard, The Carolina Hurricanes are the better built team. They are a true depth team that can survive any single line going into a slump as the other three step up and take the reigns. The goal scoring of the final games of the season came off the sticks of third and fourth liners. The defense is ridiculously deep as the team has called up Jake Bean to join the squad.
The goaltending is where the Carolina Hurricanes will be best suited to match up against the Capitals. While the Capitals have relied on Braden Holtby to protect the crease for most of the season, something he has done well, their netminding results drop drastically when his backup Phoenix Copley steps into the net.
Copley’s last win came against the lackluster Devils back on March 19th. If the Capitals do ever turn to him during the series, expect the Hurricanes to try and take advantage of that. He has not faced the Hurricanes this season with Holtby playing all four games. Meanwhile the Hurricanes have started three separate net minders against the Capitals.
This will be a long and difficult series for both teams. Expect hard fought games and excellent story-lines to come out of this series. For a welcome back to the playoffs series, there is nothing better than the chance to take down the current champs. Our prediction? Carolina in six.
Question for CC readers: How do you think this series will go? Who will get the chance to advance to face the Penguins or Islanders when the snow settles on the ice?