The Caps and Canes are knotted at two games apiece heading into game 5 at Capital One Arena on Saturday night at 8 pm on NBC and there is no doubt about one thing, Carolina pushed the Capitals around in Raleigh earlier in the week.
The Hurricanes were chippy and physical and Washington tried to get by with a finesse game that failed miserably notching only one goal in 120 minutes of hockey. That is pathetic, especially since the only tally came on the power play where a Canes player lost his stick.
Simply put, the Caps were soft as butter in Raleigh and didn’t do what was necessary to win. In addition, the Canes pushed the envelope so much that T.J. Oshie was boarded by a cross check to the back by Warren Foegele and is out indefinitely. It was an ugly play, but it underscores the way Coach Rod Brind’Amour has his team playing: at or over the edge in Slap Shot like fashion.
So how should the Capitals respond?
To me it is very simple. They have to get physical and down in the mud with the Canes to win this series. Fancy play does not cut it in the post season. The reason Washington was dominated in possession and on the scoreboard so badly is not rocket science, Carolina wanted it more and was willing to pay physically for results.
Washington MUST dump the lazy hockey and start working. Too many guys are looking too comfortable on the ice and it’s an easy ride for Carolina right now. Goalie Petr Mrazek had very little work at PNC Arena and he didn’t have to deal with hardly any traffic in front of him. Again, this is an effort thing for the Caps. They aren’t anywhere near the level they need to be at to win.
They should know better, too, after last spring. It’s not about X’s and O’s at this point in the season, it’s about wanting the puck more than your opponent, it’s taking a hit to get the puck out of your own zone to create rush opportunities. It’s battling through hacks, whacks, and cross checks to get to the front of the net to score an ugly goal or create a screen so someone else can finish.
The Capitals, who did this so well in 2018, have not come close to the performance needed to defeat a banged up Canes team that is playing with more fire and intensity than the defending Stanley Cup Champions are right now.
There are too many players to list that have underperformed in this series. There will be some help from Devante Smith-Pelly, who was recalled from Hershey on Friday. Devo is a playoff type player who can use his body on the wall and get to the net to score rebound goals. But he can’t do it all himself, every player on the Caps team has to make a commitment to dole out and feel physical punishment in game 5.
Trying to get by on talent alone is a recipe for disaster; this one is all about desire and a win the individual battles at all costs mentality. Carolina must pay for their transgressions in games three and four, physically all over the ice, and that should lead to a scoreboard advantage.
New line combinations will help, I’d like to see Evgeny Kuznetsov center Alex Ovechkin and Tom Wilson, mainly because Kuzy feels protected and plays better that way, but this is about way more than line combos and strategy.
Hockey is about emotion and intensity. Carolina had that on their side by a wide margin on Monday and Thursday as they evened the series up. Now it’s time for a team that is built for the post season to show up and get payback.
The NHL doesn’t care about suspensions. The playoffs are a battle of attrition and the team that has the superior effort and intensity often is victorious. Washington knows what it takes to win a game five in a playoff series, but they can’t just expect it to happen. They’ve let the series come to them too much in this battle with Carolina. They’ve allowed the Canes to dictate the pace of play and that just can’t happen anymore if Washington wants to win.
It’s incumbent on the Caps to have the right mindset and get back to a fully committed effort in all zones. What we’ve seen from them so far has missed the mark and badly.
So we’ll see what the Capitals are made of on Saturday night and a boisterous crowd similar to game six vs. Tampa last May would be advantageous, as well.
Round one is the hardest to win and the Caps have given Carolina some confidence that they can pull off the upset. The Canes have taken liberties with Washington on the ice and on the scoreboard.
It’s time for the Capitals to put a halt to that, or there will be major changes to parts of this roster this off-season, especially in the bottom six of the forwards group, they have to be much better for Washington to win.
This is a critical game and Washington must seize the event and force their will on Carolina. They must take the body and cause them to make mistakes. They need to pay the price physically so that they can avenge the dirty hit to one of their team leaders and key players in Oshie.
If they don’t do that, the Caps run as defending champs will be just one game away from ending.
So how bad do you want this run to continue, Caps?
It’s all in your hands now.