After a decade without playoff hockey in Raleigh, the Carolina Hurricanes finally hosted their first playoff game since May of 2009 on Monday at PNC Arena. The Carolina crowd went home happy after the Hurricanes took out a decade of pent up frustration - and some middle-of-the-first-period frustration - on the Capitals, delivering a thorough 5-0 thumping to the visitors.
The victory halted a six-game playoff losing streak dating back to - obviously - 2009, and came in what was virtually a must-win game for the Canes, who lost the first two games of the series in Washington. The Caps now lead the series 2-1, with Game 4 coming up in Raleigh on Thursday.
"We just played hard," says Canes coach Rod Brind'Amour. "It's a good win."
Petr Mrazek made 18 saves to record his fourth career playoff shutout, and he had an odd workload. Mrazek stopped 10 Washington shots in the game's first 13 minutes, five in the game's final minute, and just three in the 46 minutes in between.
Warren Foegele scored the first two Carolina goals, Dougie Hamilton scored the next two and Brock McGinn tacked on the fifth one in the third period.
"They were a desperate team," says Caps coach Todd Reirden of the Canes. "They were at a different level than we were at tonight. We didn't have enough players that played up to their ability tonight, so they were able to take advantage of some of our mistakes and capitalize on them."
Shortly after Foegele staked the Canes to a 1-0 lead midway through the first, the tenor of the game changed drastically in the wake of an unexpected and one-sided fight. Caps captain Alex Ovechkin dropped Canes rookie Andrei Svechnikov with a hard right at 10:59 of the first. Svechnikov left the game for good at that point, and the Canes also lost winger Micheal Ferland (upper body) for the remainder of the game just prior to that.
"First of all, I hope he's okay," says Ovechkin. "I'm not a big fighter, and he's the same. But he asked me to fight, and I said, 'Let's go, yeah,' so I hope he's okay. You don't want to see a guy get hurt or something."
Carolina was down to 10 forwards at that point, but you wouldn't have known it. The Caps were stuck in the mud the rest of the way while the Canes seemed turbo-charged.
"Svech means a lot to us," says Brind'Amour, "Young kid, just turned 19. So he has a special bond with our group, and with me, too. So when you see that, it makes you sick. I'm still sick to my stomach about it."
"It's an unfortunate play," says Carolina's Jordan Staal of the fight. "The kid plays hard, and we played for him there."
Carolina did not look undermanned at all at any point of the remainder of the game. They woodshedded the Caps the rest of the way, continually hemming them in their end. In the second period, Carolina scored more goals (two) than the Caps had shots on net (one). Washington looked old and slow in the second, and Carolina kept turning up the heat.
With Svechnikov out of commission, Foegele was bumped up to play with Sebastian Aho and Teuvo Teravainen, and he scored his second of the game early in the second to double the Carolina cushion. For the Caps, it was a disastrous shift. Both defensemen lost their footing, and Aho was all alone coming up the center of the ice on Caps goalie Braden Holtby. To make matters worse, two Washington forwards were about a zone behind the play and weren't able to lend any backchecking assistance. Aho fed Foegele, who was all alone just off the right post to make it a 2-0 game at 6:09 of the second.
Carolina made it 3-0 on Dougie Hamilton's second power-play goal of the series at 11:40 of the second period. Washington finally got its only shot on net of the period with just under five minutes left in the period. The soft Ovechkin backhander would turn out to be the only save Carolina needed Mrazek to make in a span of 40 minutes and 20 seconds, from just past the midpoint of the first to past the midpoint of the third.
During that 40-minute stretch in which they held the Caps to a single shot, Carolina scored three goals to expand its lead to 4-0.
Washington was down 3-0 headed to the third, and it actually had a pair of power-play chances in the first six minutes of the final frame, a chance to find a spark and maybe get back in the game. But the Caps couldn't muster a shot on goal during those four minutes of extra-man time, missing the net five times.
Hamilton scored another power play goal at 9:47 of the third, and McGinn closed out the scoring with 4:25 left.
"The first five minutes, we have some chances," says Ovechkin. "We put the puck deep, we finished our checks, and then they started to play a little different, and we just stopped playing. We can't play like that if we want to win. We're better than that, and everybody knows it."
There are only three good things to say about this loss from a Washington perspective. First, it's over. Second, it only counts as one loss. Third, the Caps still lead the series 2-1.
As Reirden noted after the game, he is eager to see how his team responds to this setback, one of the ugliest the team has suffered in the postseason in a long time.
"They fed off the energy from their building tonight, as we did in Washington," says Reirden. "And now we know we've got to be better on Thursday. It's one game, and now it's how do we respond? I know how our team has responded since the All-Star break, since the trade deadline after a loss, and I expect us to be better, and I think we will be."