April 13 vs. Carolina Hurricanes at Capital One Arena
Time: 3:00 p.m.
Radio: Capitals Radio 24/7, FAN 106.7
Game 2, Eastern Conference quarterfinal series, Washington leads, 1-0.
Two days after opening the 2019 Stanley Cup playoffs with a 4-2 win over the Carolina Hurricanes, the Caps host the Canes again on Saturday afternoon in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinal series between the two Metropolitan Division rivals.
Washington's Game 1 victory wasn't pretty, but style points are of little importance at this time of year. That said, the Caps are capable of playing much better than they did in Thursday's opener, and they'll need to so on Saturday if they hope to lead the series when the scene shifts in a southerly direction next week.
From the trade deadline to the end of the season, Washington was a top five team in the league in terms of five-on-five goals for (third) and goals against (fifth), and its plus-20 goal differential at five-on-five over that span was the best in the NHL. In four regular season meetings, the Caps limited the Hurricanes to just five goals at five-on-five.
But that late-season strength turned into a weakness in Thursday's opener, as the Caps struggled to break pucks out and to string together successive passes. Nicklas Backstrom scored the game's first goal on one of Washington's few clean breakouts of the contest, and that was the only goal the Caps could muster at five-on-five.
The Caps defended well at even strength, but they will aim for more crispness with their zone exits, more time in the offensive zone, and better and quicker decisions with the puck in Saturday's Game 2.
"Overall, our breakout scheme, I thought they were extremely aggressive," says Caps coach Todd Reirden of the Hurricanes' play in Washington's end. "They didn't do anything that surprised us. We've seen them; they're a well-coached team that has discipline in terms of how they do things systematically, so we knew that they were going to be down aggressively on the forecheck with their defense pinching down often.
Video: Todd Reirden | April 12
"For us, just the execution of coming out of then defensive zone with possession or getting opportunities from them being aggressive like that could be executed a little bit better, and that's a five-man unit. So in terms of our defense, the better and quicker we can move it to our skilled players, the better. With that being said, we spent too much time in the defensive zone. We've got to get in on the forecheck, and we've got to establish some offensive zone time to make it a little more difficult for them than we did [Thursday] night."
Backstrom's five-on-five goal came from above the circles, and the Caps' other two goals in the first came off the power play. Washington knows it won't be able to count on that type of offensive largesse on a consistent basis going forward, and knows it needs to establish much more of an offensive zone presence in the series going forward.
"I think we did a good job in some instances of keeping the [Hurricanes'] shot quality low," says Caps defenseman John Carlson. "But we didn't execute well enough to break it and get the puck out of the zone. So they have a couple of meaningless plays and then we fumble with it, and then we're tired and they're starting to get good looks.
"If we can execute out of the zone quicker, their [defensemen] are very aggressive - much like Tampa last year, I would say - and if we are going to make plays and be able to execute plays behind them, we are going to get odd-man rushes all night. I think that was our biggest thing. If we would have done a better job of that, we would have looked a lot faster and a lot better."
In its first foray in the postseason in a decade, Carolina showed no evidence of stage fright. Veterans Justin Williams and Jordan Staal have more postseason experience than the rest of the roster combined, but one could argue that the Hurricanes were more consistent over the full 60 minutes of Thursday's opener than were the defending champs.
Carolina held the Caps without a shot on net for the first nine and half minutes of the game, and it limited Washington to just four shots - only one of them off the stick of a forward - for a span of 24 minutes and 24 seconds from late in the first to early in the third.
Video: Rinkside Update | Nicklas Backstrom
"You watch the first 10 minutes," says Canes coach Rod Brind'Amour, "I was expecting it to be different just because so many guys haven't played in this big of a moment. But it's actually helped us that we have a lot of guys who haven't played in this stage. Because they don't know it's supposed to be different, so they just went out and played our game."
Carolina fell down by three in the first when the Caps struck three times - twice on the power play - in a span of just over eight minutes. But Canes didn't wilt at all with the large early deficit, and they were physical, too. They outhit the Caps 37-35 on the night, and they had the puck more frequently than Washington did. But there are no moral victories in the Stanley Cup playoffs, even for teams who are mostly entering that fray for the first time.
"Results are what it's all about at this time of year," avers Brind'Amour. "But it's nice that the guys - once we go over it as a staff - that there is some confidence in the way we played. I think that we have a chance, and we feel good about the fact that we've got a good chance to win, and we believe in ourselves and in the guys.
"The results suck, obviously. We wanted to win the game. But I think there is a lot of confidence in the way we played."
Video: Caps Locker Room | April 12