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5 Keys: Hurricanes at Capitals, Game 7

Quick start, composure, physical play likely to tip scale, decide series

by Tom Gulitti / Staff Writer


7:30 p.m. ET; NBCSN, SN, SN360, TVAS, NBCSWA, FS-CR

Best-of-7 series tied 3-3

The Washington Capitals and Carolina Hurricanes will play Game 7 of the Eastern Conference First Round at Capital One Arena on Wednesday.

The winner will face the New York Islanders in the second round.

The home team has won each of the first six games in the series; home teams have won Game 7 in the Stanley Cup Playoffs 58.6 percent of the time (102-72).


[RELATED: Full Capitals vs. Hurricanes series coverage]


The Capitals are 4-7 in the Alex Ovechkin playoff era (beginning in 2007-08) in Game 7s, including 2-5 at home. But they won 4-0 in Game 7 of the 2018 Eastern Conference Final at the Tampa Bay Lightning on their way to winning the Stanley Cup.

The Hurricanes have won their past four Game 7s but haven't played in one since the 2009 Eastern Conference Semifinals against the Boston Bruins, a 3-2 overtime victory. 

Here are 5 keys for Game 7:


1. Start fast

The team that scored first won each of the first five games of the series before the Hurricanes overcame being down 1-0 and 2-1 to win 5-2 in Game 6. That doesn't mean getting the lead won't be a benefit in Game 7. 

For the Capitals, scoring an early goal would fuel their home crowd and possibly put the Hurricanes on their heels. For Carolina, scoring first would boost its confidence in a building where they haven't won this season (0-5-0 including the regular season) and put some pressure on Washington.

The team that scores first is 129-45 (.741) in Game 7s in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.


2. Embrace the moment

If the Capitals win, they keep their repeat hopes alive. The Hurricanes have an opportunity to end Washington's Cup reign and take a big step in their first playoff appearance since 2009. 

The team that handles the pressure better will have an advantage.

"There is that tension in it, but the Game 7s I've played in there was actually less [tension]," said Hurricanes coach Rod Brind'Amour, who was 4-0 in Game 7s as a player with Carolina. "You just know this is it. There is no tomorrow. You're not playing these guys again. It's just, 'Let it all out there and the best team wins.'"


3. Stay physical

Hitting has been a big part of the series from the start and the Capitals have increased their physicality the past two games, outhitting the Hurricanes 93-70. They'll want to continue that trend, especially early, in Game 7.

"The start of the game is important," Capitals coach Todd Reirden said. "I think that the last few games we've started to impose a little bit more of our physical play that we were looking for, and I think there is still another level of that."

Video: Will Capitals thrive on home ice in Game 7?


4. Searching for Kuznetsov

The Capitals have been waiting all season for the Evgeny Kuznetsov who dominated in the playoffs last season with an NHL-high 32 points (12 goals, 20 assists) in 24 games. Like the regular season, when he had 72 points (21 goals, 51 assists) in 76 games, the 26-year-old center has had some good moments, but others when he has been invisible.

Kuznetsov's five assists in the series (no goals) each came in the Capitals' three home games. So maybe home ice will bring out the best in him.


5. Mr. Game 7

The Hurricanes signed Justin Williams as an unrestricted free agent July 1, 2017 for his veteran leadership and named the 37-year-old forward as their captain before this season. The three-time Stanley Cup winner also happens to have an NHL-record 14 points (seven goals, seven assists) and a 7-1 record in Game 7s on his resume.

That puts him in the spotlight again Wednesday with the rest of the Hurricanes knowing he's someone who will bring his best in games like this.

Williams' one Game 7 defeat? A 2-0 loss with the Capitals against the Pittsburgh Penguins in the 2017 Eastern Conference Second Round.


Hurricanes projected lineup

Nino Niederreiter -- Sebastian Aho -- Teuvo Teravainen

Brock McGinn -- Jordan Staal -- Justin Williams

Warren Foegele -- Lucas Wallmark -- Jordan Martinook

Saku Maenalanen -- Greg McKegg -- Patrick Brown

Jaccob Slavin -- Dougie Hamilton

Brett Pesce -- Justin Faulk

Calvin de Haan -- Trevor van Riemsdyk

Petr Mrazek

Curtis McElhinney

Scratched: Haydn Fleury

Injured: Andrei Svechnikov (concussion), Micheal Ferland (upper body)


Capitals projected lineup

Alex Ovechkin -- Nicklas Backstrom -- Tom Wilson

Carl Hagelin -- Evgeny Kuznetsov -- Jakub Vrana

Andre Burakovsky -- Lars Eller -- Brett Connolly

Chandler Stephenson -- Nic Dowd -- Devante Smith-Pelly

Jonas Siegenthaler -- John Carlson

Dmitry Orlov -- Matt Niskanen

Brooks Orpik -- Nick Jensen

Braden Holtby

Pheonix Copley

Scratched: Christian Djoos, Travis Boyd, Dmitrij Jaskin, Parker Milner

Injured: Michal Kempny (torn left hamstring), T.J. Oshie (upper body)


Status report

Svechnikov, who has not played since Game 3, skated Wednesday and Brind'Amour was unsure of his availability for Game 7. … Ferland did not skate Wednesday and Brind'Amour said he probably won't play. … Though Martinook (lower body) returned for Game 6, Brind'Amour said he'll be a game-time decision. … The Capitals plan to dress the same lineup from the past two games.


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