I Don't Like Mondays - The Carolina Hurricanes were hosting playoff hockey for the first time in a decade on Monday night in Raleigh, and the crowd and the home team were definitely fired up. Washington knew it would need to meet and/or withstand Carolina's early push, and it did so. The game was fairly even for the first half of the first frame, and the Caps' top line seemed to have a lot of jam early, generating a handful of chances and shots on net in its first few shifts of the game.
A Caps turnover resulted in the game's first goal at 9:43 of the first, but the tenor of the game changed radically just over a minute later when Washington's Alex Ovechkin and Carolina's Andrei Svechnikov engaged in a sudden and surprising fight that didn't end well for the Hurricanes' teenaged phenom, the second player chosen in last summer's NHL Draft.
After the two jostled, slashed and shoved one another a bit, things escalated quickly and inexorably; both players appeared to nod and drop gloves. The fight was a physical mismatch, it didn't have to happen, and it ended poorly for Svechnikov, who was knocked out with a hard Ovechkin right fist, had to be helped off the ice, and did not return.
Only one team responded in the wake of the bout, and it wasn't the Capitals. Carolina got fired up for its fallen teammate, and the Hurricanes - down to just 10 forwards for the game's final 49 minutes - appeared to be wearing jetpacks the rest of the night while Washington appeared to be clad in sandbags. The result was Carolina administering a 5-0 collective punch to the Capitals, shrinking Washington's lead in the series to 2-1.
"They were definitely ready to go from the beginning, as expected," says Caps coach Todd Reirden of the Canes. "It was a live atmosphere in the building and they got some energy from it. In regard to the fight, I hope their player is okay. You never like to see that in a fight.
"Their player asked our player to fight. You have guys that don't normally fight that do, and that happens sometimes in playoff hockey. Like I said, I hope their player is okay. They were maybe able to get some momentum from it or whatever, but that's on the players that go on the ice after that shift. Throughout our lineup we didn't have enough guys who were at the level that they need to be at."
Video: Todd Reirden Postgame | April 15
From just before the 13-minute mark of the first until around 12:30 of the third, Carolina scored three times while limiting the Caps to just one shot on net. The game was effectively over when the amped-up Hurricanes took a pair of undisciplined penalties early in the third, while their lead was still just 3-0. The Caps weren't able to get a shot on net during those two power play opportunities, missing the net five times.
Washington got one more power play in the final minute of regulation, when it registered five of its 18 shots on net for the night. In managing just one shot on goal in the second period - a harmless Ovechkin backhander late in the frame - the Caps established a dubious franchise record for fewest shots in a single period of a playoff game.
Leading Men - Heading into Monday's Game 3, the Hurricanes were the only one of 16 NHL playoff teams that had not held a lead at any point in its first-round series. Washington outscored the Canes 5-1 in the first period of the first two games, and the Caps had the Canes chasing them for the rest of Games 1 and 2.
But the Canes got the first one on Monday and never looked back.
"It's always nice to score the first goal, especially against that team," says Carolina center Jordan Staal. "We want to try to do that every time. They don't make it easy on you. So scoring first was big, especially in the building, getting the crowd going and it got everyone really buzzing."
The Canes scored in the first and took a 1-0 lead to first intermission, but unlike Carolina in the first two games of the series, the Caps were never able to mount a response and make a game of it at any point in the final 49 minutes.
Video: Postgame Locker Room | April 15
"Playing against a desperate team that had - I would say - a little bit more desperation level than our team had tonight going into it," says Reirden, "we didn't deserve to win. They pushed, and we didn't push back in certain areas. That can be broken down a number of different ways. But we have to have the puck and have to have it in the offensive zone and generate some chances.
"We had some early opportunities, but other than that we went a long stretch where we weren't able to change the momentum of the game, and it was our five-man units just not being sharp enough, and them playing at a pace that we weren't able to execute against."
Monday was essentially a must-win game for the Hurricanes. Falling down 0-3 in a playoff series against the defending Cup champs is no recipe for success, especially when you're making your first postseason foray in a decade. But now the Caps need to come up with a response for Thursday's Game 4 here in Raleigh.
"Obviously the series is - they pushed back on their home ice," says Reirden. "Now we'll take a step away here and regroup, and be back at it on Wednesday."
By The Numbers - John Carlson led the Caps with 25:31 in ice time … Ovechkin led the Caps in shots on net and shot attempts, accounting for five of Washington's 18 shots on net and 10 of its 43 shot tries despite playing just 16:42 on the night … Tom Wilson led the Caps with six hits … Matt Niskanen led Washington with two blocked shots … Nicklas Backstrom won 14 of 22 face-offs (64 percent).