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Coaches Room

Capitals benefiting from playoff experience against Hurricanes

Nachbaur examines Washington's dominance on special teams, composure during late-game pressure

by Don Nachbaur / Special to NHL.com

The Coaches Room is a column by one of four former NHL coaches and assistants who will turn their critical gaze to the game and explain it through the lens of a teacher on a regular basis throughout the Stanley Cup Playoffs. In this edition, Don Nachbaur, a former assistant with the Los Angeles Kings, breaks down Game 1 of the Eastern Conference First Round between the Washington Capitals and Carolina Hurricanes.

The Washington Capitals' 4-2 win against the Carolina Hurricanes in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference First Round on Thursday turned out to be a story of the Capitals' experience versus the Hurricanes' inexperience.

The Capitals are the defending Stanley Cup champions, and their lineup had a total of 1,282 games of NHL playoff experience heading into the best-of-7 series, which continues with Game 2 at Capital One Arena on Saturday (3 p.m. ET; NBC, SN, TVAS). The Hurricanes had a combined 342 games of playoff experience, with 10 players making their NHL postseason debuts.

 

[RELATED: Complete Capitals vs. Hurricanes series coverage]

 

The difference showed at times in Game 1, which turned out to be a roller-coaster ride with momentum swinging back and forth.

The start of the game was filled with hard-hitting physical play. The Hurricanes dominated with speed and offensive-zone time, creating the start they wanted on the road. They had Washington on its heels; the Capitals did not get a shot on goal for the first 9:33.

Give the Capitals credit; they were patient defensively and capitalized with Nicklas Backstrom's goal at 9:58 to take a 1-0 lead.

Video: CAR@WSH, Gm1: Backstrom goes top shelf on Mrazek

The Capitals got some key saves from goalie Braden Holtby through those first 10 minutes and used their experience to weather the storm. They showed patience while not displaying panic. They built momentum from that first goal and took off with two power-play goals to increase their lead to 3-0 by the end of the first period.

But Carolina did not fold and got stronger as the game went on. After a scoreless second period, Hurricanes coach Rod Brind'Amour made a subtle adjustment and they cut their deficit to 3-2 with two goals from rookie Andrei Svechnikov.

At this point, Washington was back on its heels.

The third period was a real momentum/confidence builder for the Hurricanes. They were one shot away from tying the game and Carolina goalie Petr Mrazek was outstanding, making five huge saves to keep his team within reach.

Carolina had a chance with 6:07 remaining when Micheal Ferland received a great look on Jordan Martinook's centering pass into the high slot. The game might have been tied had Capitals defenseman John Carlson not blocked this chance.

Had this puck gotten past Carlson, Holtby would have faced a difficult save, similar to the chance a screened Mrazek faced on the first Capitals goal by Backstrom.

This was another example of the Capitals' experience. They could have panicked when their three-goal lead was cut to one. Instead, they settled in and showed poise during two late penalty kills. Backstrom made two key shot-blocks, and the rest of the Capitals did all the little things right until Lars Eller's game-clinching empty-net goal.

Video: CAR@WSH, Gm1: Eller hits empty net to seal win

I believe the Hurricanes come out of Game 1 with a very positive feeling. Their coaching staff can be encouraged by their resolve to hang in there and battle back from a huge hole. Their 5-on-5 play was outstanding, producing two 5-on-5 goals in the third period, while limiting the Capitals to 13 even-strength shots on goal.

The difference in the game turned out to be Washington's two power-play goals in the first period.

Looking forward to Game 2, the Hurricanes will take a close look at their penalty kill and power play. Their penalty kill was exploited, and their power play came up short when the game was on the line.

From the perspective of the Capitals, they need cleaner exits from their defensive zone to avoid the Hurricanes' hard forecheck. This would result in more offense and less time defending during 5-on-5 play.

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