Would the postseason start with a storm surge, or a tropical depression?
Here’s Thursday night’s Plus/Minus:
Plus: The Capitals started off the 2018 playoffs by losing two games in a row. This year, they’re starting off in the win column.
Minus: This ended up being a much, much closer game - with more shades of Tampa Bay - Columbus - than many Caps fans would have liked.
And now, this...
Ten more notes on the game:
1. Can you smell that? The 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs are here! And the quest for Back-to-Back begins at home for the Capitals with Game 1 and Game 2 in DC. The pregame festivities had all the requisite pomp and circumstance of a frat party mixed with a family reunion, and the most wonderful time of year was back!
2. And that quest would begin against the Carolina Hurricanes. Don’t squint too hard at the Canes, because if you do, you might just see the Washington Capitals of a decade ago. Young, talented, over-performing upstarts! Taking on the big, bad, favorites! Red jerseys! Justin Williams! They’re so like us.
3. The Hurricanes came out the hungrier, angrier team in Game 1. Carolina absolutely dominated the first ten minutes of play, posting six shots to Washington’s one and throwing their bodies around like Buffalo Bills fans at a tailgate.
I would say Rod Brind'Amour has told his club, "Hit the ever-loving God-essence out of them," as the message he wants his team to send in Game 1 against the favored Capitals.— Jason Rogers (@HeyJayJRogers) April 11, 2019
Then the rain started.
Nicklas Backstrom, the Sweet Swede himself, caught a pass from John Carlson, and gliding cooly into the slot like a steely sniper in a war zone, ripped a blister-buster into the back of the net to give Washington their first goal of the playoffs and a 1-0 lead.
4. Just five minutes later, because apparently Swedes always strike in pairs, the Caps made Justin Faulk pay for catching Alex Ovechkin in the chompers with a high stick. Evgeny Kuznetsov slid a no-look first-class parcel right to the doorstep of Nicklas Backstrom, and Backstrom signed for it with a tap-in to make it 2-0 Capitals.
I asked John Carlson after the game what, if anything, the Caps’ power play was doing differently tonight that made it so successful.
“Same thing that we’ve done since I’ve been here: move the puck around to the open guy and try not to force too many seam passes, try to force too many high-risk plays. Just move the puck fast and get looks, and we’ve got good players to take care of them,” Carlson told me.
5. STILL in the second frame, the heretofore struggling Capitals power play roared to life again like a geriatric lion. With Alex Ovechkin left comically alone in his office, the Great 8 struck like he’s done so many times before, lifting Washington to a 3-0 lead after two frames.
I asked Ovechkin after the game about whether getting the power play going was a priority for the Caps.
“Yeah, I think special teams in this time of year is very important. I think we do a great job, and have to continue to play like that," he told me.
6. There was no scoring action in the second period, with Washington holding the fort and playing good, sound defensive hockey. Carolina could not break through, and at the second buzzer, just twenty minutes separated the Capitals from a Game 1 victory.
7. But oh, those twenty minutes. Just five minutes into the frame (and with an agonizing 15 remaining), Carolina’s Russian wunderkind Andrei Svechnikov struck for the Canes, denting the back of the twine to bring the bad guys back within two - the most DANGEROUS lead in hockey.
8. And for the Caps, it almost was! Just two minutes later, Svechnikov struck again, putting the Hurricanes just one goal back with ALL THE TIME IN THE WORLD left to play. Suddenly, the mood inside Capital One Arena was tense.
9. So when T.J. Oshie took a penalty with 3:31 left, everyone in the building understood this contest was going to come right down to the wire. But a valiant last-minute effort from penalty killers like Nic Dowd, Brooks Orpik, and Lars Eller successfully staved off the danger, and an empty-net dagger from Eller finally put this one away. The Capitals were your 4-2 victors in Game 1.
10. The Hurricanes outshot the Capitals 29-18 in this contest, so it wouldn’t be a stretch to say one of the biggest difference makers was Braden Holtby. He was typically fantastic, and seemed up to the task of dueling with Carolina’s Petr Mrazek if the series calls for it.
Well, one down. Three to go. The Capitals will look to win both of their home games, as they come back to Capital One Arena for Game 2 against the Hurricanes on Saturday afternoon.