April 15 vs. Carolina Hurricanes at PNC Arena
Time: 7:00 p.m.
Radio: Capitals Radio 24/7, FAN 106.7
Game 3, Eastern Conference quarterfinal series, Washington leads, 2-0.
For the first time in a decade, the Carolina Hurricanes are hosting a Stanley Cup playoff game. On Monday night in Raleigh, they'll entertain the Capitals in Game 3 of the first-round playoff series between the two Metropolitan Division rivals.
Washington took the first two games in the District, taking a 2-0 lead in the series when Brooks Orpik supplied the overtime game-winner at 1:48 of overtime in Saturday's Game 2. Both games have essentially been one-goal contests; the Caps won Game 1 by a 4-2 count, but scored an empty-netter in the final minute.
Carolina has played well in its first foray into the postseason since 2009, but Washington has scored five of its eight goals in the first period, taking multi-goal leads early and forcing the Canes to chase both games. The Caps haven't yet played as well as they're capable of playing, but they've found ways to win and they're the only team of the 16 postseason entrants that has not trailed yet in the playoffs.
Saturday's Game 2 performance was a good deal better than the series opener for the Caps. They had more of a forechecking presence, exited their zone a bit more efficiently and consistently, and spent more time in the offensive zone when the sides were five-on-five.
Video: Todd Reirden | April 14
"It was definitely a step in the right direction," says Orpik. "It wasn't perfect, but I think we can blame ourselves as much as we want. Eventually, you've got to give them credit for what they're doing. They're playing really hard, and they've got a good game plan. They've got a lot of youthful energy over there, and it's a lot of guys' first playoffs. Sometimes it's actually easier to play when everybody counts you out."
Washington has opened up a 2-0 series lead for the first time since it did so against Philadelphia in the opening round of the 2016 Stanley Cup playoffs. The Caps eventually went up 3-0 in that series, but still needed six games with which to close out the Flyers. They're in a much better spot than they were at this stage last year; they headed to Columbus for Game 3 down 0-2 in the series after dropping a pair of overtime games at home.
This time around, they're headed to Raleigh with a series lead and they're taking to the road for the first time in two weeks, since their regular season finale in Florida on April 15.
"We're going to go in there with a game plan of how we are going to have success," says Caps goaltender Braden Holtby. "Get there, have a morning skate, and really try and dissect the rink. The rink is obviously one of those things where you've got to figure it out early. That's one of the things we know, and luckily we played there at the end of the year. All of those little factors go into creating a chance to win a hockey game. So we're going to dissect [Game 2], and see what we can do better, get to Raleigh and prepare to play Game 3."
Carolina's best player in the early portion of the series has been center Lucas Wallmark, who has a goal and two assists. He has had a hand in three of Carolina's five goals in the series, and he won 13 of 15 face-offs (87 percent) in Saturday's Game 2.
Ostensibly the Hurricanes' third-line center, Wallmark opened Game 1 in the middle of the team's fourth line. He has averaged just 10:56 in ice time in the first two games of the series. The Canes are in need of more production from their top six, and are hoping that Sebastian Aho's goal in Game 2 might get him started. He led the Canes with 30 goals and 83 points during the regular season.
"You hope it's big," says Canes coach Rod Brind'Amour of Aho's goal on Saturday. "He's obviously got to find another gear. You can tell he is a little fatigued; we haven't seen him really crank it up like he can. We had to push pretty hard to get to this point, and I think you're seeing that a little bit. Obviously [Sunday] is a nice day off, but I think he'll bounce back. He is competitive."
Video: Postgame Locker Room | April 13
This is the first trip to the playoffs for 21-year-old Aho, who was Carolina's second-round choice (35th overall) in the 2015 NHL Draft.
"It's not like we're playing bad," says Aho, "but at this time of year you've got to get that extra step and play even better. Okay is not okay, so we have to try to play our best."
Aho and his linemates - Nino Niederreiter and Justin Williams - have combined for just the one goal and two points in the first two games of the series, despite all three averaging 19 minutes or more per night. All three are minus-3 in the two games as well.
"We have to be better, our line, just in general," says Williams. "I haven't been good this series and I think if you talk to our other top scorers, we need to be a lot better. And we will be in Game 3."
They'll be home in Raleigh, playing the first playoff game in their home barn since May 26, 2009 when they lost 4-1 to the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference final. The Pens swept the Canes in four straight after Carolina took out New Jersey and Boston, respectively, in a pair of seven-game series wins.
"I hope we get a good lift," says Brind'Amour of the return home. "The guys played hard. That's the one thing - they give it all you can. You can't really fault anything. Can we be better? Yes, for sure. We had a lot of lapses in [defensive] zone coverage and we did a lot of things that I didn't like. I hadn't seen that in a month, when we were just kind of chasing things around. But at the end of the day, the guys are giving everything they have, and that's really all you can ask of them."