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FIRST ROUND

Hurricanes brace for test against Capitals in Game 1 of Eastern series

Three-time Cup winner Williams says Carolina prepared to face defending champions

by Kurt Dusterberg / NHL.com Correspondent

RALEIGH, N.C. -- The Carolina Hurricanes know the challenge they face in the Eastern Conference First Round against the Washington Capitals, but that won't change their approach.

"Obviously, we're underdogs, we're playing against the defending Stanley Cup champions," Hurricanes captain Justin Williams, who played with the Capitals from 2015-17, said on Monday. "Do we feel like we are (underdogs)? No, we're going to work our tails off and see how good we can be."

Game 1 of the best-of-7 Stanley Cup Playoffs series is at Washington on Thursday (7:30 p.m. ET; USA, SN360, TVAS, FS-CR).

None of the 10 players drafted by Carolina has appeared in an NHL playoff game. The Hurricanes are making their first postseason appearance since 2009 (swept by the Pittsburgh Penguins in Eastern Conference Final).

 

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"For our guys who haven't been in that situation, that's where it gets tough," said coach Rod Brind'Amour, the captain of the Hurricanes when they won the Stanley Cup in 2006. "It's the mental toughness part of the game. You've got to be able to grind. We've done that all year, and you've got to be able to stick with it. They're not going to give you much. That's why they're the champs. They know how to win. We're going to have to fight that."

Sebastian Aho, who led the Hurricanes with 83 points (30 goals, 53 assists) will be counted on to find his scoring touch. The 21-year-old forward had six assists in the final 14 games of the regular season.

"You want to prove some points, but it's all about wins this time of year," Aho said. "If we can get those wins, I'm happy."

Aho is not alone. Micheal Ferland, who had 40 points during the regular season (17 goals, 23 assists) finished the season with five assists in the final 17 games.

Video: Previewing the Hurricanes-Capitals First Round series

"If we don't have everyone playing at their top, we're not going to win," Brind'Amour said. "The best players obviously have to be right up there. You talk to all your guys, whether they're playing good or bad. I don't think (Aho and Ferland) are playing poorly. I just think they haven't been scoring."

Williams, who signed with the Hurricanes before the 2017-18 season, was on the team when they won the Cup in 2006 and won the Cup twice with the Los Angeles Kings (2012, 2014). He was encouraged with the way Carolina played in the second half of the season. After a 15-17-5 start, the Hurricanes went 31-12-2 to reach the playoffs.

"Guys expect more out of themselves, and more out of each other," Williams said. "When you challenge each other to be better players, that's the only way you improve as a team."

The Hurricanes won't dwell on their 0-3-1 record against the Capitals in the regular season.

"The games we lost this year were tight-checking games that (the Capitals) found ways to win, which is what good teams do," Williams said. "At the end of the series, you either want to make them really, really earn it, or you want to be able to push them out of it. At some point, somebody is going to give and say it's too hard. We've got to make sure it's not us."

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