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Capitals will play Hurricanes in Eastern Conference First Round

Washington has home-ice advantage against Metropolitan Division rival

by David Satriano @davidsatriano / Staff Writer

The Washington Capitals will play the Carolina Hurricanes in the Eastern Conference First Round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Washington (48-26-8) finished first in the Metropolitan Division and will have home-ice advantage in the best-of-7 series against Carolina (46-29-7), which finished as the first wild card from the East. They have never met in the playoffs.

The Capitals went 4-0-0 against the Hurricanes this season, outscoring them 15-9.

"It's going to be a big challenge for us, defending Stanley Cup champions," Carolina goalie Curtis McElhinney said. "It'll be a tough series, but something everybody in here is excited and looking forward to."

The Capitals won their first Stanley Cup championship last season, defeating the Vegas Golden Knights in five games. The Hurricanes had not qualified for the playoffs since 2009, when they were swept by the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Eastern Conference Final.

"We know we have a whole other level that our team can get to than we've been at even during the season," Washington coach Todd Reirden said. "That's an exciting part about what we're going into here and we're going to need it because every opponent from now on is extremely difficult and it's going to be a battle."

Alex Ovechkin led the Capitals with 51 goals and 89 points, and Nicklas Backstrom had 74 points (22 goals, 52 assists). Washington had five other 20-goal scorers: T.J. Oshie (25), Jakub Vrana (24), Brett Connolly (22), Tom Wilson (22) and Evgeny Kuznetsov (21). Braden Holtby was 32-19-5 with three shutouts in 59 games (58 starts); Pheonix Copley was 16-7-3 with one shutout in 27 games (24 starts).

Sebastian Aho led the Hurricanes with 83 points (30 goals, 53 assists). Teuvo Teravainen had 76 points (21 goals, 55 assists), and Justin Williams scored 23 goals. Petr Mrazek went 23-14-3 with four shutouts in 40 games; McElhinney was 20-11-2 with two shutouts in 33 games.

Ovechkin scored four goals against Carolina, including a hat trick in a 6-5 shootout win Dec. 14. John Carlson had seven points (two goals, five assists), and Kuznetsov had five assists. Holtby won each of the four games with a 2.21 goals-against average and .918 save percentage.

Aho had six points (three goals, three assists), including four points in the 6-5 loss. Williams and Teravainen each had a goal and two assists. Carolina used three starting goalies in the four games: Mrazek was 0-2-0 allowing five goals on 59 shots; McElhinney was 0-1-0 allowing three goals on 20 shots in a 3-2 loss on March 28; and Scott Darling allowed five goals on 29 shots in the 6-5 loss.

"It's going to be a great challenge," Carolina coach Rod Brind'Amour said. "You're playing the Stanley Cup champs. It'll be tough, we know that. No matter who we're playing, it was going to be an uphill battle, we know that. I like the way this group has responded all year to challenges. This is obviously a big one coming up."

Carolina won the Stanley Cup in 2006 when Brind'Amour was captain. Williams, now captain, was also on that team.

"The only thing that makes it personal is that I know a lot of the players (on Washington). I guess that's the definition of personal," Williams said. "It'll be a fun series to be part of. Stanley Cup champs, the best team. Someone's going to knock them off, so we're going to try. It'll be tough and we'll give it everything we got."

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