The Washington Capitals didn’t let all of the offseason partying stop them from returning to the postseason for the first time under new Head Coach Todd Reirden. The Capitals had their moments this season where they didn’t look like a team that could make it back to the postseason to defend its title. They got it together in the end to win the Metropolitan Division ahead of the New York Islanders.
The Carolina Hurricanes did some work in the offseason and Rod Brind’Amour got the team to buy into his system. The goaltending tandem of Petr Mrazek and Curtis McElhinney has worked well all season long. The Hurricanes are just one of a few surprise teams to make it to the postseason.
The Regular Season Series Rundown
The Washington Capitals were able to sweep the four game season series to go 4-0-0 against its first round opponent in the regular season. The first game on Dec.14 was a shootout, both literally and figuratively with the Capitals grabbing the 6-5 win in a shootout. The second meeting of the season happened on Dec. 27 and this time the Capitals took the game by a score of 3-1. The third game of the season series took place on Mar. 26 and the Capitals managed to win the game by a score of 4-1. The fourth and final game of the season series took place on Mar. 28 with the Capitals pulling out another close win by a final score of 3-2.
Special Teams Play
A common theme for a majority of the teams in the postseason this year is average to poor play on special teams, whether it be on the power play, penalty kill, or both. The Capitals penalty kill hasn’t been the best this season, and only killed off 78.9% of the penalties taken and allowed five short-handed goals. The Capitals power play finished 12th in the NHL(20.8%), which is low considering all the fire power they have on the two units. The team added five short-handed goals of their own.
The Hurricanes has one of the better penalty kills in the NHL, but lacked something on their power play. The penalty kill operated at 81.6% for the season and was ranked 8th overall. They had eight short-handed goals of their own on the season. The power play is another story and they only converted on 17.8% of their opportunities, while allowing eight short-handed goals against. The power play will need to be more successful if the Hurricanes want a shot at winning the series.
Alex Ovechkin is always a key players for the Capitals and it will be no different in this series. If Ovechkin can get some points in this series then it will make it harder for the Hurricanes to go with the matchup that they want because the Capitals have four lines that can score. Ovechkin is the leader of this team and he should want to get off to a good start in the series and never look back.
Justin Williams, captain of the Hurricanes, is going to be the team’s most important player. He is a veteran player with playoff experience, which is something this team lacks overall. The players on this team are young, but have experience in the NHL, but that some playoff experience. He’ll need to keep this team grounded and not let them get down if they are down in a game or the series. Rod Brind’Amour will also be very important to this team in the postseason.
The biggest thing that separates these two teams is the depth and experience that the Capitals have. Most of the players who won the Stanley Cup last season are still with the team, but there are a few new pieces to the puzzle. This may be Todd Reirden’s first season as head coach of the Caps, but he was an assistant on the bench when they won the Stanley Cup last year.
The x-factor for the Hurricanes will be the goaltending and how it holds up throughout the postseason. Mrazek and McElhinney have been very good as a tandem all season long, but Mrazek has taken the starting role over as of late. Mrazek is frustratingly inconsistent, he can make a spectacular save one minute and then let in a soft goal the next. McElhinney has been a backup for most of his career. If the Hurricanes want to make a deep run then Mrazek has to make the easy saves and not allow soft goals.
The Capitals Win the Series if…
They can have the balanced scoring that they’ve had all season. They have four lines that can score and a couple of defensemen that can jump into the play. The Michal Kempny injury could be a big one for them, but they have defensemen that can jump in and take his spot. The power play needs to be better than it was in the regular season. The biggest reason the Capitals will win is because of all the experience and depth that they have through out the lineup.
The Hurricanes Win the Series If…
They can get amazing goaltending from Mrazek and play good clean defensive hockey. The ‘Canes are going to need to keep the turnovers to a minimum because the Caps have no problem turning garbage into gold. The team defense will need to be even better than it was in the regular season with all the talent the Capitals have on their roster. The biggest factor will be if the Hurricanes’ power play can cash in against a middle-of-the-pack Capitals’ penalty kill.
Capitals-Hurricanes Series Prediction
The Capitals will get decent goaltending from Braden Holtby and the depth will be something that the Hurricanes won’t be able to handle. The Capitals will do a decent job of keep Sebastian Aho and Teuvo Teravainen off the score sheet. The Capitals will take this series in six games.