With the regular season concluding on Saturday, the real fun begins for sixteen different organizations in the NHL—the playoffs are underway! In this segment, we are going to be looking at the Washington Capitals and Carolina Hurricanes.
The “Jerks” of North Carolina
The Carolina Hurricanes finished their regular season with a record of 46-29-7, good for 99 points and 4th in the Metropolitan Division. For the past decade, they have been on the outside looking in, this is their first postseason appearance since the 2008/09 season.
Carolina has been a bit of a revelation this season, their post-game antics have got them both endearment and notoriety. It really is dependent on who you ask. You have fans that think it’s in good fun but ask Don Cherry and he will label them as “jerks”. But when they’re not participating in one of their “Storm Surge” celebrations, actual hockey is being played. They look at Justin Williams, a seasoned veteran who has had his share of playoff moments over his career for leadership and their young guns for the bulk of the scoring.
Sebastian Aho leads the Hurricanes in scoring this season, totaling 30 goals and 83 points. Teuvo Teravainen finished the campaign off with 76 points, but from there the team scoring takes a major dip. However, their blue-line play has been solid. The addition of Dougie Hamilton has paid off, as he finished second in the NHL in goals by a defenseman with 18. Justin Faulk added in another 35 points, and Brett Pesce finished third in the league in +/- with 35.
Backing up that defense core, their goaltending was steady as well. Petr Mrazek assumed the majority of the workload, playing in 40 games while finishing the season with a 2.39 GAA, an SV% of .914, and four shutouts. Journeyman backup goaltender Curtis McElhinney has proved he can step up when needed and bolstered stats comparable to Mrazek’s.
The Defending Champions
The Washington Capitals represent the complete opposite of the Hurricanes over the past decade. With no shortages of playoff appearances in that span (9), they are the defending Stanley Cup champions entering the round robin. Finishing off their 2018/19 season with a record of 48-26-8, good for 104 points and 1st in the Metropolitan.
Alexander Ovechkin —like clockwork— led the Washington Capitals and the entire NHL in goals scored this season with 51. Alongside that honor, he enters this year’s playoffs as the reigning Conn Smythe recipient. Teammates Nicklas Backstrom, Evgeny Kuznetsov, and John Carlson also had 70+ point campaigns.
Goaltending has been questionable at times during the season for the defending champs. Braden Holtby —former Vezina winner and William H. Jennings winner—has not been the face of consistency this season. However, his rocky play has stabilized as-of-late, and he was able to finish off the season with a record of 31-19-5, 2.82 GAA, and an SV% of .911 with three shutouts.
John Carlson has had a dark horse Norris candidate type season, amongst the league leaders in every significant statistic in his position. However, they don’t enjoy the same depth as Carolina. And when you look at Washington defensively, they rank below league average.
Now that you have a general view of the strengths and weaknesses of both contestants, let’s look at who gets the edge in a seven-game series.
Washington. Firstly, they have one of the greatest goal-scorers the game has ever seen in Alexander Ovechkin. Secondly, they have a more balanced attack and have players that have been in key playoff games and produced. Just watch out if this series goes seven games, then the advantage goes to the team that employs Justin Williams.
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Carolina. They have a multitude of players anchoring their blue line that can step up into plays and provide scoring opportunities. And according to oddsshark.com, they rank sixth in the league in goals against. A major component to that impressive feat is that they have no defenseman with a negative +/-.
Washington. Experience is prevalent here, though Mrazek does have an imposing playoff resume—his sample size is paltry in comparison with Braden Holtby. Holtby has played in 82 playoff games, Mrazek has played in 11. Holtby has also had the luxury of appearing in several series-deciding game 7’s, and a Stanley Cup Final.
Tied. We have two rookie coaches pinned against each other. Rod Brind’Amour, ex-NHLer who played for the Hurricanes and brought them their only cup in 2005 has done a marvelous job orchestrating the revamped Hurricanes to relevance. Todd Reirden has had the privilege of inheriting a Stanley Cup winner, but this season was not all sunshine and rainbows for the Capitals. They appeared a victim of the moment. Classic case of “Stanley Cup Hangover”. But they powered through and finished the season first in their respected division and earned home-ice through the first two rounds (at minimal). Neither has coached a playoff game, so this will be an interesting development as the series progresses.
Who Takes the Series?
The regular season series was as one-sided as possible. Swept by the Washington Capitals 4-0. But don’t expect the same outcome for this series. There’s something brewing over in North Carolina, and historically the Capitals don’t get out the games running. If the Hurricanes are able to split victories in Washington, this could potentially go the distance. However, Washington was finally able to get the monkey off their back last season and seemed prepared to handle whatever Carolina throws at them.
Washington wins series: 4-2