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5 Keys: Hurricanes at Capitals, Game 2

Carolina needs to get Aho going; Washington wants quicker zone exits

by Tom Gulitti @TomGulittiNHL / NHL.com Staff Writer

HURRICANES at CAPITALS

3 p.m. ET; NBC, SN, TVAS

Washington leads best-of-7 series 1-0

The Washington Capitals will try to go up two games against the Carolina Hurricanes when they play Game 2 of the best-of-7 Eastern Conference First Round at Capital One Arena on Saturday.

Teams that win the first two games of a best-of-7 Stanley Cup Playoff series have a series record of 318-50 (.864) and are 241-30 when they come at home (.889). The Capitals are 3-3 when winning the first two games of a best-of-7 series at home.

 

[RELATED: Complete Capitals vs. Hurricanes series coverage]

 

Washington opened defense of its 2018 Stanley Cup championship with a 4-2 victory in Game 1 on Thursday. Nicklas Backstrom scored two goals, and defenseman John Carlson had three assists for the Capitals. Rookie forward Andrei Svechnikov scored twice for the Hurricanes, who played their first playoff game since 2009.

Here are 5 keys for Game 2:

 

1. Special teams

The Capitals scored on their first two power plays in Game 1 and killed off all three Hurricanes power plays. That included limiting Carolina to one shot on goal during two power plays in the final 8:46, including 57 seconds at 6-on-4 with goalie Petr Mrazek on the bench.

Conversely, the Hurricanes lost track of Backstrom at the left post on the first Washington power-play goal and left Alex Ovechkin open to score the second one on a rebound.

"They're going to get opportunities, obviously, but there's a couple little things we looked at to do the best we can to nullify that, and a couple things we looked at on the power play as well to be more impactful," Carolina captain Justin Williams said.

 

2. Quicker defensive-zone exits by Washington

The Hurricanes dictated play at 5-on-5 with their relentless pressure in the offensive zone, generating scoring chances and forcing the Capitals to spend long stretches in their end.

As a result, Carolina outshot Washington 29-18 and limited the Capitals to 13 even-strength shots on goal, one of which was Lars Eller's empty-net goal from the defensive blue line. The Hurricanes dominated in 5-on-5 shot attempts, 59-23.

The Capitals are intentionally selective about when they shoot, seeking higher-quality chances over a high number of shots to make it more difficult for opposing goalies to get in a rhythm. But they know they must get out of their end and up ice quicker with crisper passes to spend more time in the Hurricanes zone, wear down their defensemen, and create more chances to shoot.

"Just the execution of coming out of the defensive zone with possession or getting opportunities from them being aggressive like that could be executed a little bit better," Washington coach Todd Reirden said. "That's a five-man unit. In terms of our defense, the better and the quicker we can move it to our skill players, the better."

 

3. Defensemen's ice time

With Michal Kempny out for the season with a torn left hamstring, the Capitals relied heavily in Game 1 on their top three of John Carlson (25:32 in ice time), Matt Niskanen (24:36) and Dmitry Orlov (22:18). Brooks Orpik (17:27, including 4:32 on the penalty kill) and Nick Jensen (15:53, including 15:20 at even strength) played a little less, and Christian Djoos (7:48, including 1:13 in the third period) was used sparingly.

Some of this was situational, with the Capitals trying to protect a lead in the third period, but figuring out the best way to fill Kempny's ice time remains a work in progress. Expect Reirden to look for better balance in Game 2.

The Hurricanes relied on their top four defensemen with Calvin de Haan out with an upper-body injury. Justin Faulk (26:10) led the way, followed by Jaccob Slavin (25:00), Brett Pesce (22:48) and Dougie Hamilton (19:59). The third pair of Trevor van Riemsdyk (13:30) and Haydn Fleury (7:19) saw limited action.

De Haan, who has not played since March 31, went through the full practice Friday.

 

4. Sebastian Aho

The Hurricanes' top center, Aho had a quiet Game 1, despite playing 26:10 (tying Faulk for most on either team). He had two shots on goal and no points. That came after he went the final 14 games of the regular season without a goal and with five assists over that span.

The Capitals matched the line of Carl Hagelin, Evgeny Kuznetsov and T.J. Oshie against Aho's line, even after Hurricanes coach Rod Brind'Amour changed up his combinations in the third period. Aho will need to find a way to battle through that and get back to being the player who set NHL career highs in goals (30), assists (53) and points (83) despite the late-season drop-off.

"I've had a lot of scoring chances, and I think it's maybe just a little bit relax and not put so much pressure," Aho said. "When you get the chance, just put it in the net and not worry about it."

 

5. Physicality

The teams combined for 72 hits in Game 1, with Carolina holding a 37-35 edge. That included 40 in the first period, when the Hurricanes outhit the Capitals 22-18.

It was clear early that the Hurricanes wanted to establish that they won't be intimidated physically by the more experienced Capitals. Wearing down a team physically over a long playoff series was part of Washington's formula for success on its way to winning the Stanley Cup last season.

 

Hurricanes projected lineup

Nino Niederreiter -- Sebastian Aho -- Justin Williams

Micheal Ferland -- Jordan Staal --Teuvo Teravainen

Andrei Svechnikov -- Jordan Martinook -- Brock McGinn

Greg McKegg -- Lucas Wallmark -- Warren Foegele

Jaccob Slavin -- Dougie Hamilton

Brett Pesce -- Justin Faulk

Haydn Fleury -- Trevor van Riemsdyk

Petr Mrazek

Curtis McElhinney

Scratched: Saku Maenalanen, Jake Bean

Injured: Calvin de Haan (upper body)

 

Capitals projected lineup

Alex Ovechkin -- Nicklas Backstrom -- Tom Wilson

Carl Hagelin -- Evgeny Kuznetsov -- T.J. Oshie

Jakub Vrana -- Lars Eller -- Brett Connolly

Andre Burakovsky -- Nic Dowd -- Chandler Stephenson

John Carlson -- Nick Jensen

Dmitry Orlov -- Matt Niskanen

Brooks Orpik -- Christian Djoos

Braden Holtby

Pheonix Copley

Scratched: Jonas Siegenthaler, Travis Boyd, Dmitrij Jaskin, Ilya Samsonov

Injured: Michal Kempny (torn left hamstring)

 

Status report

Eller sat out practice Friday because of a lingering upper-body injury, but Capitals coach Todd Reirden said he expects him to play in Game 2. … Slavin did not practice (maintenance), but Brind'Amour said he will play.

 

LISTEN: NHL Fantasy on Ice: Game 1 reaction & Game 2 previews

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