April 18 vs. Carolina Hurricanes at PNC Arena
Time: 7:00 p.m.
Radio: Capitals Radio 24/7, FAN 106.7
Game 4, Eastern Conference quarterfinal series, Washington leads, 2-1.
After a two-day mid-series respite, the Caps and the Carolina Hurricanes are back at it on Thursday night in Raleigh when they meet up for Game 4 of their first-round Stanley Cup playoff series. For the first time this spring, the Caps come into the contest on the heels of a loss, and this wasn't just a garden-variety loss.
Hosting its first playoff game since May of 2009, Carolina put a 5-0 walloping on Washington in Game 3 here on Monday night. The Caps were fine for the first 10 minutes of the game, but the Canes - already playing at a high level in their first playoff game in front of the home folks in a long time - got more fuel for their jet packs when Caps captain Alex Ovechkin knocked out Canes winger Andrei Svechnikov with one punch in a short and surprising fight midway through the first.
From that point until the game's final minute, Carolina controlled the momentum of the game and dominated the Caps in every aspect of the contest. Carolina limited the Caps to five shots on net and just 23 shot attempts over the next 48 minutes of the game, scoring four more unanswered goals of its own in the process.
There was seemingly nothing the Caps could do to get hold of the game's momentum, and Game 3 quickly spiraled out of their control.
"We didn't do a lot great, so there is a lot of room for improvement off of our last performance," says Caps winger T.J. Oshie. "I think [it's a matter of] getting back into that very direct, hard-working focus. It felt like we wanted the game to come a little easier to us, and they ramped up their game. And you could tell with not only the score, but also the shots and how the play went. We've got to be better and we will."
Video: Caps 365 | April 17
The Caps took Tuesday off to lick their wounds and rest, and they conducted a Wednesday afternoon practice session at PNC Arena during which they made alterations to all four of their forward lines, and to their third defensive pairing. Caps coach Todd Reirden flipped the right wings on the top two lines, putting Oshie with Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom, and putting Tom Wilson with Evgeny Kuznetsov and Jakub Vrana.
In the bottom six, Reirden moved Andre Burakovsky up to play with Lars Eller and Brett Connolly, and he put Carl Hagelin with Nic Dowd and Travis Boyd, who will draw in for Chandler Stephenson. On defense, Jonas Siegenthaler is expected to slot on for Christian Djoos on the right side of a pairing with Brooks Orpik.
"Now we've been through a game here," says Reirden, "and we've made some adjustments - not just lineup-wise, but with our team - and some different ways we are going to do some things systematically and some areas we can get better here. I've said it many a time; just because you're in the playoffs doesn't mean you stop coaching and stop trying to help players to get better and figure out ways that we can do things to give ourselves a better chance to have success."
Monday's game is just one loss, and the Caps still hold a 2-1 lead in the series. But the reality of the situation is that Washington carved out the 2-0 lead it brought to Carolina without playing anywhere near to its best hockey. The Caps played extremely well for the second half of the first period in Game 1, and for the entirety of the first frame in Game 2. Washington has outscored the Canes 5-2 in the first period of the first three games, but Carolina owns an 8-3 scoring advantage over the second and third periods, and overtime.
Aside from their first period in Game 2 and half of their other two first periods, the Canes have had the better of the Caps at five-on-five and on special teams, and the Caps will need to muster a response in Game 4. The Caps haven't lost consecutive games in regulation for almost three months, since Jan. 18-20. Washington has been good at bouncing back from bad beats for the last several seasons, and it will count on that experience once again in Thursday's Game 4.
"I rely on our leadership group in all situations," says Caps coach Todd Reirden. "We've got a very strong one that's experienced and has had success. I think it's important that they're together.
Video: Todd Reirden | April 17
"There has got to be two different ways that you hold your team accountable and you rally your team. Some come from the coach and the coaching staff, and another comes from within. As a coach, you can't spend every waking minute with your players, so you rely on your leadership group. Ours is - I feel - the strongest in the league and they have been all year, and I expect them to be a part of our response on Thursday. We've been good since the All-Star break at our response after a loss, and I wouldn't expect anything less."
On the other side of the equation, Carolina is dealing with some lineup changes of its own, but for different reasons. Svechnikov is still in concussion protocol and unlikely on play in Game 4. Micheal Ferland was last seen trying to lay a hit on Tom Wilson early in the first period of Game 3; he left after that shift and did not return because of an upper body injury. Carolina coach Rod Brind'Amour indicated that Ferland won't play Thursday either, so the Canes are expected to be without two of their top six goal scorers from the regular season.
Spare forward Saku Maenalanen will return to the lineup; he played sparingly in Game 2. Carolina also recalled forward Patrick Brown from AHL Charlotte, and he is expected to get a sweater on Thursday as well.
Video: Locker Room | April 17
Brown is an undrafted center who played collegiate hockey for Boston College and is in his fifth season as a pro. The 26-year-old Michigan native racked up career highs of 19 goals and 35 points with the Checkers this season, and he has played in 28 NHL games over parts of three seasons with the Hurricanes, totaling one goal and two points.
"You know what you're going to get out of him," says Brind'Amour. "First of all, really good character kid. He is their leader down there in Charlotte, and has been for a while. I just expect him to come work hard. He knows how to play the game and certainly it's not going to affect him, the stage and how big of a game it is. I think his game won't be affected."
Carolina hopes its overall game can come close to matching its terrific Game 3 performance, and it knows to expect much better from the Capitals, too. Game 3 wasn't a must-win for Carolina, but the Canes needed the win on Monday to retain viability in the series. If they can win on Thursday, they'll have the Caps squirming a bit.
"We'd rather be up 2-1 than down 2-1," says Brind'Amour. "It's never a must game until it is, but it is for us. We want to make sure to give our best effort, that's it. That's really all we talk about. If it's not good enough, then it's not good enough. But we know that we need to play a certain way to have a chance against these guys. If the bounces don't go your way or something happens, we have another game. Maybe that's nice to know, but we're definitely approaching it like we've got to win."