During their run to the Cup crown last spring, the Caps were adept at avoiding consecutive losses, aside from two instances. They dropped the first two games of their opening round series against Columbus, and Washington actually lost three straight - the longest losing streak a team can have in the playoffs without exiting - in the middle of the Eastern Conference final with Tampa Bay. But that was it; their other losses were isolated incidents.
Heading into Game 4 on Thursday night in Raleigh, the Caps will try to draw upon the experiences of last spring as well as the regular season as they aim to get back on the winning track.
"I'm just really excited to see the game tonight because it's our first chance to respond," says Caps coach Todd Reirden. "We've done such a good job since we've come back after the All-Star break at our response after a game we didn't like. I don't think you heard or saw any of our players saying that they thought, 'Oh, we had a great Game 3; we don't know how we lost.'
"That was a game that didn't go our way and to me [what matters] is, what's our response? How are we going to change things here? How do we get back in control of Game 4? That relies on the video and the adjustments we've made, that relies on our leadership group, that relies on our coaching staff to get our guys ready to go tonight. It will be a building now we've seen one time in playoff mode. It's a fun environment.
"Like I said, I'm looking forward to seeing our guys and our response because every other time that it's happened after the All-Star break, we've responded the appropriate way."
Video: Todd Reirden Pregame | April 18
Change Gonna Come - Carolina used a suffocating forecheck to dominate the Caps in the possession game in Monday's Game 3, and Washington is expected to adjust in response to that aspect of the game on Thursday, with some personnel shifts and some systematic adjustments.
"We're going to make some lineup adjustments which we think can give us a little bit better match-ups, especially without us having the last change," says Reirden. "I think this gives us a little bit better chance from that standpoint, and also we obviously looked at some things systematically that we can do different.
"But ultimately, it comes down to our desperation level needing to match theirs. They were the more desperate team in Game 3, and we need to match that tonight."
Carolina held the Caps to one shot on goal over a span of just over 40 minutes in Monday's Game 3. Washington finished the night with 18 shots on net, and it had half of that total midway through the first period. Even with a multi-goal lead, the Canes swarmed the Caps in their own end for the lion's share of the night. Five of the Caps' shots on net came in the final minute of regulation when they were trailing 5-0, and four of those five were on a late Washington power play.
"They commit to it," says Reirden of the Carolina forecheck. "When they don't see a favorable situation, they're putting pucks in behind our defense, and then they're coming hard on their forecheck. It's definitely a five-man forecheck where their defense will be pinching down on both sides. They try to take away space and force us into small areas where we can make mistakes, and we've got to do a better job of breaking that pressure. It comes a few different ways that we are continuing to work on. I thought we did a better job of it in Game 2, and then not as much in Game 3. So we will respond from there."
That Carolina forecheck has been extremely effective in the three games to date. The Caps' five-on-five Corsi share is just 37.04 percent in this series, easily the worst figure among the 16 playoff teams. The next closest team is Calgary at 44.2 percent. The Flames are the top-seeded team in the Western Conference, but they're a game away from elimination after Wednesday's 3-2 overtime loss to the eighth-seeded Colorado Avalanche.
Video: John Carlson Pregame | April 18
"We know they've been coming hard on the forecheck all three games and trying to be physical," says Caps defenseman Nick Jensen. "Last game they did the best job of doing that, being fast and right on top of us. There are advantages to be had with that [for us]; if they're going to be that tight, we can start to put pucks behind them, be a lot faster, just get the puck moving a little more north in our game instead of always trying to go tape-to-tape. It's always nice to go tape-to-tape out of the zone, but it's not always the right play to be made. So we've got to find ways to get the puck moving, going north. That will eventually back them off, and then you change your game from there and start going tape-to-tape."
It's not just on the defensemen to stem Carolina's forechecking tide, either. Washington's forwards have to do their part as well.
"I think just be ready for what they're going to give us," says Washington winger Brett Connolly. "Obviously, that was their best, last game. It wasn't our best, obviously. So [we need to] get in some lanes and slow their forwards up a little bit without taking any penalties is going to help our [defense] out.
"It's not going to be perfect; no series is perfect. We weren't going to win every game. Kudos to them; they played a great game, they came at us with everything they had and the crowd was into it right from the start. It was tough to get anything going. So we made some adjustments, watched some clips and we know what to expect. We have to be ready for that exact same game, because they're going to do the exact same thing. We know that, and we're going to have to have guys step up and play a lot better."
Back In The Saddle Again - Two new faces will draw into the Washington lineup tonight. Travis Boyd replaces Chandler Stephenson on the right side of the fourth line, and Jonas Siegenthaler slots in for Christian Djoos on the Caps' third defensive pairing.
Boyd saw action in one postseason game last spring; he skated and played well in Game 6 of the Caps' second-round series with Pittsburgh, the game in which Washington eliminated the Pens despite playing without Nicklas Backstrom, Andre Burakovsky and Tom Wilson. Boyd had five goals and 20 points for the Caps during the 2018-19 regular season, demonstrating some offensive flair.
"Just a guy that earned an opportunity all year," says Reirden of Boyd. "We decided to go with Stephenson to start, and I think this is a good chance for us after not getting enough offensive time, chances and forecheck to go with someone that has a little bit more offensive skill in that spot tonight.
"Travis has been really good, had a strong year for us, and has been able to provide some secondary offense for us. But also, just the excitement and the compete for him to get in there. You have a guy who has been out for three games, and it's good to bring some fresh energy in. We'll use him as the game is going. You go into a situation like this with a game plan in mind, but ultimately as a coach you have to be able to move players into different spots. He is going to be in a situation tonight to succeed, and with moving [Carl] Hagelin down to that line as well, I think it gives us a little bit better four-line depth."
Siegenthaler got into 26 games with the Caps as a 21-year-old rookie in 2018-19, recording four assists and a plus-6 while averaging just over 14 minutes a night in ice time. Siegenthaler got into five Calder Cup playoff games with AHL Hershey in 2016-17, and he has 28 games worth of postseason experience scattered over three postseasons with Zurich in the Swiss League.
With Michal Kempny out for the season, the Caps initially turned to Djoos to fill in for him. But three games into the postseason, Djoos is minus-3 while skating just 7:24 a night; Kempny was getting just over 19 minutes a night during the regular season.
Washington defensemen have spent most of this series in their own end of the ice, which makes for some hard minutes. When you also factor in that they've been absorbing a dozen of the minutes that would go to a healthy Kempny, it makes for an unsustainable situation, and one the team hopes Siegenthaler can help fix.
"He is a young defenseman that has got size and really good stick detail," says Reirden of Siegenthaler. "He understands the game and he has poise out there in heated situations. Obviously he hasn't played playoff hockey before, but he is a guy who - with that added size - can make plays under pressure and take a hit to make a play and fend off players a little bit easier. He is strong around the net, so now we get a little bit of a bigger guy in that spot. His ability to kill penalties is something that he did a good job of when we gave him the opportunity. You get into a situation where some of your top killers defenseman-wise are in the box, and this is a guy we feel comfortable with.
"We liked a lot of the things he did this year for us, and he seemed to get better and better. Maybe at the end he hit a little bit of a wall and then we got into a little bit of a numbers game, but he went down, played a lot of minutes, worked hard and when we had a chance to bring him back, we have. He is a player for us who has a bright future in this league. I'm looking forward to seeing him play [Thursday]."
Video: Rinkside Update | Lars Eller
It Hurts - Carolina will be without two of its top nine forwards and two of its top six goal scorers from the regular season in Game 4. Andrei Svechnikov is in the concussion protocol after taking Alex Ovechkin's right fist squarely on the chin in the first period of Monday's game, and winger Micheal Ferland will miss tonight's game with an upper body injury also sustained in the first period of Game 3.
The Hurricanes have been getting by with secondary scoring, as their top guns have been relatively quiet in Games 1-3. But as long as they deliver the consistent effort they've put forth in the first three games, they'll have a chance to win every game.
"To win against these guys, we are going to have to play that way," says Canes coach Rod Brind'Amour. "There is no other way. We've got to limit every mistake, try to give them no room, and capitalize when we can. Generally, when you play the best team in the league, you better be on your toes and you better do everything right. Otherwise, it's not going to go your way."
In the Nets - Braden Holtby gets the net for Washington in Game 4. Holtby's six-game playoff winning streak came to an end with the Caps' loss in Monday's Game 4, and he will be seeking to avoid consecutive postseason setbacks for the first time since he and the Caps dropped three straight in Games 3-5 of last spring's Eastern Conference final series against Tampa Bay.
Holtby enters Thursday's game with a 3.02 GAA and a .902 save pct. for the playoffs. He has won eight of his last 10 postseason starts dating back to last spring. In games following a loss during his postseason career, Holtby is 20-12 with a 1.96 GAA and a .929 save pct.
Carolina goaltender Petr Mrazek comes into Thursday's Game 4 on the heels of a relatively easy 18-save shutout against the Caps in Game 3. Five of those 18 stops came in the final minute of Monday's game. Mrazek now has four career Stanley Cup playoff shutouts in which he has made anywhere from 16-28 saves. Four of his five career victories have come via the shutout route.
Mrazek enters Game 4 with a 2.33 GAA and an .897 save pct. for the 2019 Stanley Cup playoffs.
All Lined Up - Here's how we expect the Capitals and the Hurricanes to look when they meet on Thursday night at PNC Arena for Game 4 of their first-round Stanley Cup playoff series:
8-Ovechkin, 19-Backstrom, 77-Oshie
13-Vrana, 92-Kuznetsov, 43-Wilson
65-Burakovsky, 20-Eller, 10-Connolly
62-Hagelin, 26-Dowd, 72-Boyd
6-Kempny (lower body)
21-Niederreiter, 20-Aho, 86-Teravainen
13-Foegele, 11-Staal, 14-Williams
8-Maenalanen, 42-McKegg, 36-Brown
4-Fleury, 57-van Riemsdyk
37-Svechnikov (concussion protocol)
44-de Haan (wrist)
79-Ferland (upper body)