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Capitals, Hurricanes each learn valuable lessons from Game 1

Washington wins while not at its best, Carolina gains confidence from strong showing

by Tom Gulitti @TomGulittiNHL / NHL.com Staff Writer

WASHINGTON -- The Washington Capitals and Carolina Hurricanes each learned some lessons Thursday.

Fortunately for the Capitals, they were able to learn theirs while holding on for a 4-2 victory in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference First Round at Capital One Arena. 

The defending Stanley Cup champions will take the win, but they know they'll likely have to play better when they host Game 2 of the best-of-7 series Saturday (3 p.m. ET; NBC, SN, TVAS).

 

[RELATED: Complete Capitals vs. Hurricanes series coverage]

 

"We got the first one. That's a good thing," center Nicklas Backstrom said. "We got a good start there. We got some energy off our [three] goals in the first, but overall I think we got fortunate a little bit. They're a good team. They're aggressive all over the ice and didn't give us a lot of time out there, but I think as a team we can play a little bit better. 

"We got lucky there."

The Capitals were fortunate in that they nearly squandered a 3-0 lead they built in the first period with Backstrom scoring twice, once on the power play, and Alex Ovechkin also scoring with the man-advantage. 

The pesky Hurricanes, who are in the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time since 2009, outplayed them for long stretches with their relentless pressure and would not go away. 

Video: Capitals hold off Hurricanes to win Game 1 at home

Rookie forward Andrei Svechnikov scored twice in the third period to bring Carolina within 3-2 before Washington killed off two late penalties. Lars Eller's empty-net goal with 37 seconds remaining finished off the Hurricanes' comeback hopes.

"I think it was good to face some adversity, make us realize how much each play means," said Capitals defenseman John Carlson, who had three assists. "Yeah, at the end, that was big, a lot of big-time blocks, big-time clears and guys paying the price, and that's what we're going to need. No team is going to just roll over no matter what the score in the playoffs."

The Capitals went through a lot before winning the Stanley Cup for the first time last season, so they probably didn't need to be reminded that a 3-0 lead guarantees nothing. But if they did, all they had to do was watch what happened to the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 1 of their first-round series against the Columbus Blue Jackets on Wednesday.

Video: CAR@WSH, Gm1: Backstrom taps in power-play goal

The runaway winners of the Presidents' Trophy's as the top team in the NHL in the regular season, the Lightning also jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the first period. But the Blue Jackets battled back with four straight goals, including three in the third period, to win 4-3.

Capitals coach Todd Reirden said he never mentioned to his team what happened to the Lightning the night before. He didn't have to.

"We knew it was not over," Ovechkin said. "We could see what happened last night in a different game, but it is the playoffs. You never know what is going to happen. Lucky bounce and you can be back in the game."

Video: CAR@WSH, Gm1: Ovechkin slides home loose puck for PPG

That's basically what happened in the third. Nic Dowd, Carl Hagelin, Brett Connolly and Eller each had a great chance to increase Washington's lead to 4-0 early in the period but couldn't finish against goalie Petr Mrazek. Then the Hurricanes pushed back.

With 10 players in their lineup making their Stanley Cup Playoff debut, the Hurricanes looked like they might be overwhelmed after the Capitals scored three times on their first eight shots on goal, but they never strayed from their game plan.

They outshot the Capitals 11-4 in the second period and finally broke through in the third. For the game, Carolina outshot Washington 29-18.

Video: CAR@WSH, Gm1: Svechnikov rips home one-timer

They just weren't able to put a third goal past goalie Braden Holtby.

"You can get down on yourself and pack it in, but that's not what this group in here does," Hurricanes defenseman Brett Pesce said. "We keep going and just keep playing our game."

Although the Hurricanes had plenty to be happy about with their 5-on-5 play, they need to be better on special teams. They allowed goals on the Capitals' first two power plays and managed only one shot on goal in their two power plays in the final 8:46 of the third period, including 57 seconds of 6-on-4 when Mrazek was on the bench for an extra attacker.

But they were pleased with the process, if not the result.

"You need to (be), for sure," Hurricanes coach Rod Brind'Amour said. "It's hard to sell that right now. Guys are pretty disappointed. We played hard, certainly don't fault that. The execution on some things wasn't great. We had a couple guys that need to be better, for sure, if we're going to beat the best team. 

"But at the same time that's a positive for me, that we weren't at our best and still kind of had a chance to win."

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