The Capitals and Carolina Hurricanes have been division rivals for 21 years, but they have never met in the Stanley Cup playoffs. That changes today when they play Game 1 of a first-round series at Capital One Arena. You know all about the defending Stanley Cup champion Capitals. But what about the Hurricanes, who are in the playoffs for the first time since 2009? Here’s a handy guide to help you get to know all about Carolina – and why it could give the defending champs a run for their money.
The Hurricanes lead the league in shots
The Caps have found success in recent years with a quality over quantity philosophy when it comes to shots on goal. Carolina has the exact opposite approach. They led the NHL in shots on goal with 34.4 shots per game. For a while, that did not translate into much offense. The Hurricanes were fairly consistent with their shot volume all season long, but up until the All-Star break they were only scoring about 2.78 goals per game. Since the All-Star break, however, Carolina seems to have found its scoring touch with 3.25 goals per game. Don’t be surprised if you see the Hurricanes dominate the shots on goal throughout the series.
Petr Mrazek is red hot
Mrazek’s stats in goal for the season are fairly decent with a .914 save percentage and 2.39 GAA. That’s good, but nothing that would make you particularly worried heading into a playoff series…until you look at how he has played recently. Since March 1, Mrazek has been absolutely lights out, posting an 8-2-0 record in 10 starts with a .942 save percentage and 1.79 GAA. Just to put that into context, in the infamous 2010 playoff series against the Montreal Canadiens Jaroslav Halak managed a .939 save percentage and 2.46 GAA against Washington. If Mrazek is able to maintain his momentum into the playoffs, he absolutely could be a game-changer for the Hurricanes.
Carolina has played well for months
The team with the best record in the Metropolitan Division since New Year’s Day? No, it’s not the Capitals or Penguins or Islanders. It’s the Hurricanes. They didn’t look like a playoff team after a 15-17-5 start. That ranked 13thin the Eastern Conference. Carolina was sinking to the basement. Since then they have gone 31-12-2 for 64 points, which is third most in the league during that span behind Tampa Bay and St. Louis. Of course, that includes two losses to the Capitals last month and an 0-3-1 record against Washington overall this season.
Inexperienced Hurricanes can rely on a few Stanley Cup veterans
There is an experience gap here. Carolina has just 342 combined games of NHL playoff experience. That doesn’t compare very well to Washington, which has second and third-year players who have extensive experience - let alone veterans like Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and John Carlson. Half of Carolina’s roster will be making its Stanley Cup playoff debuts. The Hurricanes do have some experience, though. Justin Williams won a Cup in his first go-around with the team. Jordan Staal won a Cup with the Penguins in 2009 and has played in 73 playoff games – though none since he left Pittsburgh after the 2011-12 season in a trade. At age 24, Teuvo Teravainen has won the Cup, too, in his rookie year with Chicago in 2015 and has four goals in 25 postseason games.
The Hurricanes might not have the depth of elite talent that the Capitals do, but they have gamebreakers of their own. Sebastian Aho, at age 21, has established himself as a rising star in the NHL. Oh – he’s also a Caps killer with eight goals and nine assists (17 points) in just 12 games. Aho had 83 points (30 goals, 53 assists). Look out for an even younger player than Aho: Andrei Svechnikov. The young Russian, still just 19, idolized Alex Ovechkin growing up and is a sturdy 6-foot-2, 195 pounds. He has 20 goals as a rookie. Also, Teravainen, 24 and a Stanley Cup winner with the Blackhawks as a rookie, has 76 points (21 goals, 55 assists). It will be interesting to see how Aho and Svechnikov adapt to the Stanley Cup playoffs in their first time here.
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