Potential First Round playoff matchups for the Capitals: Carolina Hurricanes

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We have reached the home stretch of the NHL season. It's time to look ahead to see who the Caps could play in the first round. With a few days in between games, now's a good time for Andrew Gillis and JJ Regan to look at how Washington stacks up against potential matchups in a seven-game series.

Today's team: The Carolina Hurricanes

Why the Hurricanes would be a good matchup for the Caps

Andrew: I suppose this is as simple as looking at previous meetings this season between the Capitals and Hurricanes.

Yes, the most recent one got off the rails in a hurry for the Capitals. But even if you discount the November victory for Washington, the Capitals have played two of their best games of 2022 against the Metro’s top team — they're just a team that Capitals play well against. It would be a wildly intense and physical series, and I think that favors the Capitals if it becomes a slugfest. 

Goaltender Frederik Andersen has had an outstanding season for Carolina and currently boasts a .927 save percentage for the year. Since Jan. 1, that average is essentially the same (.925). But in that same timeframe, Capitals goalie Vitek Vanecek has a .916 — an average that went down significantly after a poor night at Capital One Arena on Monday. I think the goalie matchup might be closer than it seems off-hand. 

While the Capitals have the skill to match up with the Hurricanes, the way I think they win in the playoffs is by turning each series into a war that forces teams to grind out victories each night, and each shift. That’s certainly possible against the Hurricanes.


JJ: It's a bit tougher to answer this question in the wake of Carolina's 6-1 win on Monday, but that was a game that mattered more for the Hurricanes than it did the Caps. Washington won each of the first three matchups between these two teams and Carolina needed to win Monday to avoid the season sweep.

While Washington has been up and down this season, the Hurricanes have been consistently one of the top teams in the league, yet they have really struggled against the Caps this season. Generally I do not think regular season results matter much if at all when two teams meet in the playoffs, but it does show that this is a team Washington gets up for and plays well against.

Carolina is very aggressive with its forecheck which gave the Caps fits in their playoff series in 2019. With the departure of Brenden Dillon and Zdeno Chara in the offseason, Washington's defense relies less on muscle and more on quick puck movement which will be better able to handle what the Hurricanes throw at them.

I have to disagree with Andrew and say I believe Carolina is absolutely the more skilled team and it's not close, but Washington is the more physical one. In a budding rivalry and with a head coach as fiery as Rod Brind'Amour, I think there is the possibility the Hurricanes could allow themselves to get distracted by physical play and lose focus. I especially believe that after hearing what they had to say about Lars Eller's hit on Jesperi Kotkaniemi.

In the three games the Caps won, Washington had more power play opportunities in each game and scored at least one power play goal. This Caps team is at its best when it plays physical so I definitely see some potential of drawing Carolina into playing in a way that would benefit Washington.

Why the Hurricanes would be a bad matchup for the Caps

Andrew: Pretty much just extrapolate what happened in Monday’s loss and there’s the answer. 

The Hurricanes are a fast and aggressive team and are one of the best in the sport in terms of creating chances, both in quality and quantity, at five-on-five play. If the Capitals struggle at all on the blue line with turnovers or with quick-decision making, the series can go haywire fast.

Additionally, Carolina is, to say it bluntly, essentially the opposite of what Washington is as a team. The Hurricanes’ top five point-getters are 24, 21, 27, 28 and 26 years old. They try to force opponents into mistakes with their speed and aggressiveness on the forecheck. They want to speed the game up into a track meet rather than a defensive fistfight.

If the Capitals have any trouble at all handling what the Hurricanes present, it’s going to be the steepest climb possible to win that series.

JJ: Carolina has a very deep lineup and that is a problem for a Capitals team where health has been a question mark all year. When healthy, Washington matches up fairly well, but it only takes one or two injuries for bad mismatches to develop which Carolina can expose. On offense, Nicklas Backstrom and Anthony Mantha seem to be holding steady after lengthy injury absences, but T.J. Oshie and Nic Dowd have struggled to stay healthy. If there are any injuries on the blue line, I think Matt Irwin or Michal Kempny would really struggle against Carolina's forecheck.


Offensively, the Hurricanes are one of the best teams in the NHL in generating shots and high-danger chances. Defensively, they are good at suppressing chances, have the best goals against per game average and the best penalty kill.

It's tough to find a real weak spot on this team. Maybe you think goaltending could be. Isn't that the knock on Andersen, that he can't win in the playoffs?

I thought so too until I looked up his actual playoff numbers. Andersen has a career postseason save percentage of .916 including a .936 last season. If your goalie gives you that level of goaltending, you should be able to win. It turns out that Andersen's postseason struggles are really just Toronto's postseason struggles and not really his.