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Playoff Notebook: Canes Hope to Turn Series Around in Raleigh

Canes expecting rowdy home crowd for Games 3 and 4

by Michael Smith @MSmithCanes /

The Carolina Hurricanes went to our nation's capital in search of at least a split in the opening two games of their first-round series with the Washington Capitals.

With the best-of-seven slate now shifting to North Carolina's capital city, the Hurricanes face a 2-0 series deficit against the defending Stanley Cup champions.

The Hurricanes haven't been overmatched, though. They don't look out of place and even when they haven't been at their best, they've given themselves a fighting chance.

"At the end of the day, the guys are giving everything they have, and that's really all you can ask from them," head coach Rod Brind'Amour said after the Canes dropped a 4-3 decision in overtime in Game 2.

The first round is far from over, and a win for the Canes at home in Game 3 could alter the complexion of the series.

The mindset is no different than it's been for the last four-plus months: focus on improving and getting the win, one game at a time.

"How do we reverse it? We just have to play better and play our game. That will give us a chance, for sure," Brind'Amour said on Sunday. "I'd love to see our best and then see what happens."

Trust the Process

Though the results were ultimately the same, there were some key differences from Game 1 to Game 2.

The Hurricanes opened the series on Thursday with a dominant first 10 minutes, and their command of the 5-on-5 game allowed them to mount a third-period comeback. Their ailment in Game 1 was special teams, as they surrendered two power-play goals in the first period and couldn't convert on a pair of power plays in the latter half of the third period with a chance to tie the game.

The Capitals were the better team in the first 10 minutes of Game 2, and they established a quick 2-0 lead with improved 5-on-5 play. The Hurricanes won the special teams battle on paper, killing all four of the Caps' man advantage opportunities - including 4:09 worth of a major penalty - and scoring a power-play goal to tie the game with five minutes left in regulation.

Video: Staal: "I'm excited to see the scene"

"Each game was different in ways that we could have been better," Jordan Staal said. "All in all, we've got to find ways to play better defensively and make sure we don't give them any easy goals. We're fighting to get goals, and they seem to be getting a few easy ones and a few too many good chances."

If the Canes can meld those divergent 5-on-5 and special teams results, they'll set themselves up to grab their first victory in this series.

"It's all about wins this time of year," Sebastian Aho said. "We haven't won, so we just have to find a way."

Brind'Amour asked the Canes to trust the process in late December when the team was a distant playoff afterthought at 15-17-5. It worked. The team stayed true to itself and morphed into one of the NHL's best teams in the new year.

It's time to trust the process once again, even if the early returns haven't been present.

"I don't think we played our best game, and we had a chance to win that game," Aho said of Game 2. "You just try to believe that when we play our best, we have a better chance to win."

The Best From the Best

Lucas Wallmark (1g, 2a) and Andrei Svechnikov (2g, 1a) are the Hurricanes' leaders in points through the first two games of this series.

That's not necessarily a bad thing. Svechnikov perhaps possesses the most raw talent on the Canes' roster. He's a star in the making.

"Eventually he'll be an absolute force out there," Williams said after the rookie's two-goal performance in Game 1. "He's a really good player already, but he's got potential to be a star. You can just tell by his release and competitiveness that he's going to get there."

Wallmark, though more sparingly used than Svechnikov, has contributed where it counts. He got the Canes on the board in Game 2 with a redirection goal in the slot. He also won a game high 13 of 15 faceoffs, helping the Canes control possession in the dot.

"If you play the game right, generally you're going to have things go your way," Brind'Amour said. "He's been pretty solid all year. That's been one of his assets. He does it right."

Video: Aho: "It's more intense, I like it"

This statistical leaderboard becomes troublesome, though, when the Canes' best offensive players have been limited in the first two games of the series.

Aho tallied his first goal since March 9 to even the score in the second period of Game 2, with the primary assist to Justin Williams, but that's been all that first line plus Nino Niederreiter has been able to generate. Staal notched a crucial power-play goal in Game 2, but his linemates Teuvo Teravainen and Micheal Ferland (who didn't play in most of Game 2) has been held off the scoresheet entirely.

"There are a lot of details in the game we can do better," Aho said. "It all starts with when you defend well, that's when you get your own chances, too."

"We've got to be better offensively. We haven't done what we wanted to. Between myself and Turbo and Ferls, we'd like to be better offensively," Staal said. "You've got to work for your chances against that team. We'll do our best."

"They're not getting the chances or creating enough, and they're giving up too much. That's not a good recipe. Those guys have found a way all year to figure it out," Brind'Amour said. "Our top guys have to show up. Otherwise, it's going to be real, real tough."

Play On

All is quiet on the supplementary discipline front for Ferland, Dougie Hamilton and Alex Ovechkin, all three of whom were penalized to varying degrees for hits in Game 2.

Ferland's penalty was the steepest, while his hit might have been the least egregious of the three.

In the second period, the puck rolled off Nic Dowd's stick at the right blue line. Ferland had Dowd lined up and caught him with what was deemed an illegal check to the head, and as a result, Ferland was assessed a match penalty.

The hit, though, wasn't a check to the head. The primary point of contact was Ferland's midsection with Dowd's shoulder. Dowd's head then planted on Ferland's back as a result of the collision.

Video: Brind'Amour: "It's going to be loud, fans deserve it"

"I saw him reach for the puck. I could have finished with my shoulder, but I didn't," Ferland said. "I came and hit him with my butt. I thought it was a clean hit, and I don't agree with the call."

Brind'Amour didn't agree with the call either, and he let referee Steve Kozari know it. The point of emphasis?

"When four of them get together and say this is what happened when it didn't, that's when I have a problem," Brind'Amour explained. "What should happen is, if you don't know, it's a two-minute penalty and let player safety figure it out later. You don't make a five-minute penalty and kick the guy out. That's a double whammy."

The Department of Player Safety seems to agree. It won't come calling for Ferland. The same goes for Hamilton, who was penalized for elbowing Evgeny Kuznetsov in the second period, and Ovechkin, who was also penalized for elbowing (that was more of a shoulder and probably should have been a roughing minor, but, hey) Brock McGinn in the first period.

"That one's actually worse because it actually is a hit to the head," Brind'Amour said of Ovechkin's hit. "Our sport is getting too fast to officiate. It's really hard. I feel for those guys."

This series might only get more physical as inches become tougher to earn.

"That's playoff hockey. I don't think you watch any game in this first round that hasn't been chippy and physical," Staal said. "We're not expecting anything less. If anything, I think guys have been enjoying the intensity."

Home Ice Advantage

Awaiting the Hurricanes at Raleigh-Durham International Airport on Saturday was a passionate group of Canes fans to welcome the team home. The fans cheered and chanted as cars drove by, players waving and honking in appreciation.

"Really cool. Our fans have been great," Staal said. "We're excited to play in front of them and hopefully give them a good show."

Tweet from @NHLCanes: We have the BEST FANS! Thank you for the warm welcome back home, Caniacs 👊

"It gives you a little extra energy there to see that people care about us and are behind us," Aho said. "It definitely feels nice."

Imagine the pent-up emotions of a fanbase that has been yearning for a playoff game for 10 long years. That fervor will be cathartically released in Games 3 and 4, and the Hurricanes can't wait to experience it.

"I'm expecting a loud building," Staal said. "I'm excited about it, and I know everybody in that room is excited to get out there and play in front of a rowdy crowd. Hopefully we can use that to our advantage."

"They know how to have a good time and enjoy the game. They certainly don't sit on their hands and watch. We hope to give them a lot to be excited about," Brind'Amour said. "My hope is that we give our best. That's it. Then we see how it shakes out. Fans deserve something to be cheering about, so I hope we give them that."

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