ARLINGTON, Va. – After six games between the Capitals and Carolina Hurricanes, it still remains hard to get a feel for the series.
Both teams have managed to win three games, and both teams have blown out the other. The series is not going seven games because one goalie is standing on his head or because any one player is carrying the team. There is no clear matchup that is giving another team fits, no real consistency from game to game.
One undeniable trend, however, has been each team’s success on home ice.
Through six games, the home team has gone a perfect 6-0. That is not exactly how things have gone around the rest of the league as the home team has gone 18-19 in the other playoff series. It also stands in stark contrast to what Washington was able to do in last season’s playoff run to the Stanley Cup.
The Caps were a much tougher team to beat away from Washington in the 2018 playoffs going 10-3 on the road and 6-5 at home. Through six games this year, each of Washington’s three wins have come at home while they have failed to win any of the three games they have played in Raleigh.
“I would definitely say a big impact has been the fans in both arenas,” Nic Dowd said. “And then for whatever reason, it kind of seems like each team has brought a different game on the road vs. at home.”
“Maybe it's just feeding off the crowd or them wanting to play well in front of their fans,” Devante Smith-Pelly said. “It's been a weird series that way. I'm not really sure why it's been that way, though.”
Home ice offers some advantages to a home team, the most obvious of which is the crowd. That is an advantage that has grown for Washington since last year’s run.
“I just think that a whole different aura was created last year,” Todd Reirden said. “In the beginning of the playoffs, the crowds were better than they were during the regular season, but then by the end of it we had the streets filled, we have so many people that are hockey fans from the DC area that weren’t, that were supporting it, that got hooked on hockey and it grew into something really special and we’ve already felt the effects of that in Round 1 with how the crowd can be and just the energy around the building. It’s at such a different point than we were at last year and I think that’s something special and it’s a great reminder of how we had success last year and we’re going to need every bit of that from our faithful fans and their support during the game because if they were wondering if they make a difference or not, they just can look at the home results.”
“It’s something where the fans can definitely have an impact from the aspect of if it gets loud, they can impact a game and teams can feed off their home-ice advantage,” Dowd said. “We’ve done that this series, we’ve played well in front of our home and we use them. Carolina is a tough building to play in.”
But with all due respect to Carolina and its fans, if the Caps were not rattled by the crowds in Columbus, Pittsburgh, Tampa Bay and three Stanley Cup Final games in Vegas, saying the red-clad fans in Raleigh have been able to fluster the defending champs seems an overly simplistic explanation.
There is also a certain familiarity that comes with each rink that may have contributed to slowing down the Caps’ playing style.
“The rinks are a lot of different, and not crowd or anything, but the actual rink -- the ice, the boards, size, everything is different,” Braden Holtby said. “That might have a little bit to do with it. You're more comfortable in the arena you play in a lot, so that might have a little bit to do with it.”
When pressed on what those differences are, Holtby said, "The ice there is different; it's bouncy. We play a more skilled kind of game, puck-moving, and sometimes you have to simplify a lot more there. The boards there are inconsistent. Every rink is different in that way, and you try to test that out. I think moving forward, if we're in this situation again, you've just got to do some more homework on it because you control the controllables and they're fun challenges every time you've got different, unique setups like that."
Home ice also makes it easier for a coach to get the matchups he wants. The home team gets to make the second line change allowing the coach to see who the visiting team puts on the ice and adjust the lines accordingly.
That has not played a major factor in this series, however, as the matchups have remained largely consistent through the six games.
Whatever the reason, home ice been a huge advantage for both teams throughout the series. That bodes well for Washington as it hosts Game 7 on Wednesday. It also bodes well for a long run if the Caps can get past Carolina.
With all the first-round upsets, Boston is the only team with more points than Washington that has not been eliminated and they face a Game 7 of their own on Tuesday. Should they lose, it would guarantee Washington home-ice throughout. At that point, it doesn’t matter what the Caps do on the road so long as they continue to defend home ice.
Said Dowd, “We work our [expletive] off all year to get home-ice advantage and we’ve earned it for this exact moment.”
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