Perhaps the turnaround was sparked by the towel-waving PNC Arena crowd of 18,783 that had waited far too long for the Carolina Hurricanes to play a home playoff game.
Maybe the Hurricanes’ revival in the first-round NHL playoff series was fueled by the desperation of a team that knew it couldn’t afford to fall behind three games to none against the defending Stanley Cup champions.
Whatever the reason, the Washington Capitals appeared stunned Monday night as Carolina used a high-energy performance to win 5-0 in Game 3 and cut their deficit in the best-of-seven series to 2-1.
“We knew they weren’t going to sit back and wait for something to happen,” Washington captain Alex Ovechkin said. “We knew they were going to push, and we knew they were going to play hard, and they did. But I think tonight, all four lines didn’t play the right way. We didn’t play our game at all.”
After scoring the first three goals in the series opener and the first two goals in Game 2 in Washington, the Capitals fell flat in the first playoff game in Raleigh in 10 years.
The second period in particular brought a performance by Carolina that was so dominant that it was difficult to imagine that Washington entered the game with a 2-0 series lead. The Hurricanes applied relentless pressure in the period, outshooting the Capitals 18-1. At one point during the period Washington was so out of sync that it was whistled for three icing penalties in a matter of minutes.
Warren Foegele scored his second goal of the game in the second period, and Dougie Hamilton added a power-play score as the Hurricanes extended their lead to 3-0 heading into the second intermission.
“They played pretty well the first two games, too,” Washington goalie Braden Holtby said of the Hurricanes. “We were just more poised breaking out of our end [in Games 1 and 2]. We were all on the same page, committed. I don’t think the did anything different that surprised us. That’s why it’s a positive move forward, because we know we can fix that and rebound in Game 4.”
From the Capitals’ perspective, it’s difficult to tell the effect on the game of a first-period fight that resulted in 19-year-old Hurricane rookie Andrei Svechnikov being helped from the ice. Ovechkin connected on two punches to Svechnikov’s head and knocked him to the ice. Svechnikov was unable to return because of what was termed an upper-body injury.
Holtby said the Capitals wasted the energy the fight might have created. Washington coach Todd Reirden said the Hurricanes might have gotten some momentum from the fight. Capitals defenseman John Carlson said the game’s opening goal, scored by Foegele shortly before the fight, was what gave Carolina its momentum.
Ultimately, Reirden said, the Hurricanes just played like the more desperate team.
“I think they fed off the energy from their building tonight as we did in Washington, and we know we’ve got to be better on Thursday [in Game 4],” he said. “It’s one game, and now it’s how do we respond? I know how our team has responded since the All-Star break, since the trade deadline, after a loss. I expect us to be better, and I think we will be.”