RALEIGH, N.C. – The Capitals just have to look around the NHL to see how haywire a Stanley Cup Playoff series can go.
The Tampa Bay Lightning, the Cup favorite after a brilliant regular season, are down 0-3 to the Columbus Blue Jackets. So are the Pittsburgh Penguins, who have lost three in a row to the New York Islanders.
So even ahead 2-0 in their own first-round series against the Carolina Hurricanes, the Capitals are wary. After all, they overcame a 2-0 deficit against the Blue Jackets just last spring. In this series against Carolina, they have played well enough to win. They have another level to their game. And they are on the road in a building that, while usually friendly to them, hasn’t hosted a playoff game since 2009.
“Even if we won four straight against [Columbus] there, they proved they’re a tough team to play against,” Nicklas Backstrom said. “That’s something that obviously Tampa knows now, too. They’re a tough team with good players. Am I surprised? No.”
Of course, road games have never particularly bothered Washington much. The Capitals clinched all four series on the road last season and went 10-3 away from Capital One Arena.
But PNC Arena, where the Hurricanes won a Stanley Cup in 2006 and have gone on other deep playoff runs, should be exceptionally loud tonight. Carolina can’t afford to fall behind 3-0.
“I’ve been in this building for a playoff game – more than one,” Washington coach Todd Reirden said. “And everything that goes around it. And I can tell you – and I shared it with the players – we need to expect a a very urgent, desperate team that’s going to get a lot of energy from this crowd tonight.”
Because series can turn so quickly. The Capitals won in overtime on Saturday 4-3. They could easily be tied with Carolina having home-ice advantage. Tampa Bay and Pittsburgh appear in shock right now. The Capitals have been there. Three times they have won the Presidents’ Trophy (2010, 2016, 2017) and never made it past the second round.
“You think it’s the same game, but it’s not,” Backstrom said. “It’s a completely different game. You’re not going to be allowed those - how do I want to put it? Easy goals, maybe? Teams are going to play good defensively. That’s just the way it is.”
So they will be ready for a different atmosphere in Raleigh than they’ve seen before. A win and they can start looking toward the second round. A loss and we have a series. It’s a big one.
Here is the Capitals’ expected lineup tonight for Game 3. The only change is flipping Jakub Vrana and Carl Hagelin, who had so much success the last month of the regular season on the third line.
Ovechkin – Backstrom – Wilson
Vrana – Kuznetsov – Oshie
Hagelin – Eller – Connolly
Burakovsky – Dowd – Stephenson
Carlson – Jensen
Orlov – Niskanen
Orpik – Djoos
Goalie: Braden Holtby
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