2019: the year of the upset. The Tampa Bay Lightning, Calgary Flames, Nashville Predators, and now, the defending champion Washington Capitals, all division winners, are out in round one. This time, the Carolina Hurricanes are the ones pulling off the upset. Led by former NHLer, and first-year coach, Rod Brind’Amour, the young Canes toppled the Capitals in seven games.
Carolina became the first road team to win in this series, and rallied from 2-0 and 3-1 down to win Game 7 4-3 in double overtime. Keep in mind, the Hurricanes were also down 2-0 in the series and used Game Three as a spark of life. So what changed, and how was Carolina able to keep up their dogged perseverance to uproot the defending champs? Today we’ll look at the key factors that helped propel the Hurricanes to the second round.
Rod Brind’Amour‘s Guidance Leads Carolina Hurricanes to Round Two
It was clear from the puck drop at the beginning of Game 7’s overtime that Carolina had no intention of making it easy for the Capitals. The Hurricanes out-shot the Capitals 11-4 in the first overtime (and held Washington without a shot until almost halfway through the period); and 7-2 in the second overtime.
The shot selection also had a large discrepancy. Washington seemed to constantly be looking for the perfect play — an Evgeny Kuznetsov tap-in or an Alex Ovechkin slap shot was all they had in the books. Carolina, however, was getting everything they could to the net. Everybody was shooting, with Sebastian Aho and Justin Williams tallying five. Carolina simply seemed like they wanted to control the game more, and they did.
Carolina’s shooting was a big part of their success in this series. Through their seven games, they averaged 33 shots. This included a 45 shot game in Game 3, which resulted in a 5-0 Hurricanes win, and 42 shots in Game 7. Carolina hammered away at Capitals goaltender, Braden Holtby, eventually causing him to buckle. Headed into round two, they’ll face Vezina-nominee Robin Lehner and will need to employ this same heavy-shooting strategy to stay on top.
Shutting Down the Washington Power Play
Washington’s power play is rather infamous, a catalyst in their Cup run last year. And the threat of an Ovechkin slap shot from the left circle looms large. Carolina took three penalties in Game 7, including a potentially very costly one by Saku Maenalanen early in the second overtime. They managed to kill off all of them. In fact, Washington only recorded two shots on the powerplay Wednesday night. Aho added a shorthanded goal to boot, Carolina’s first goal of the game.
The Hurricanes were aggressive enough but not too aggressive. All series long, they knew when to pinch and go after the puck for a clearing attempt, while not leaving any passing lanes gaping. Carolina’s stick-work was near impeccable, making them look like experts against a renowned Caps power play. A Washington power play that ranked in the better half of the league during the regular season was only able to score six goals on 24 attempts this series. This number is inflated, though, by three power-play goals in Game 5, when Washington trumped the Hurricanes 6-0. Without including Game 5, Carolina has a penalty kill percentage of 85, which would rank them fourth among playoff teams.
Of course, Carolina’s special teams could use some refining. They currently boast a 12 percent on the power play, 75 percent on the penalty kill. This was good enough to keep the high-scoring Capitals at bay but it’s not good enough to win the Stanley Cup. Moving forward, they’ll need to fix their special teams units to guarantee a long playoff run.
One huge constant that stuck with Carolina throughout their season didn’t leave come playoff time. This talented, youthful group saw tremendous leadership from seasoned veterans like Justin Williams and Jordan Staal knew enough to get it done.
Leadership and influence had a huge impact on Carolina in this series. Williams showed leadership as the rightful captain. And with Brind’Amour’s proficiency behind the bench as a former Hurricane himself, they had all the pieces in place. Those pieces shined throughout this series. The Hurricanes, back in the playoffs for the first time since 2009, have defeated the defending Stanley Cup champions.
What a story this series was. Carolina was playing with house money. Game 7 was one of the most important games in recent franchise history and the Hurricanes showed up to play. They proved that while they may not have the most talented roster, their perseverance and resilience wins them hockey games. It sure helped them back a definite statement in round one, now they look to do the same in round two.