RALEIGH — With the Stanley Cup favorite Tampa Bay Lightning and perennial threat Pittsburgh Penguins swept out of the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, the defending champion Washington Capitals were suddenly being painted as favorites in the Eastern Conference and a strong candidate to repeat.
Thursday morning’s The Washington Post Express even featured a cover showing Capitals captain Alexander Ovechkin skating toward an illuminated Stanley Cup with the title “Theirs For The Taking,” with a subhead that highlighted the Lightning and Penguins exiting the postseason early.
The Carolina Hurricanes look ready to write a story of their own.
Warren Foegele scored 17 seconds into the game, sending the already-amped home crowd into a frenzy, and Teuvo Teravainen scored the game-winner in the final seconds of the second period to help the Hurricanes even their first-round series with Washington at two games apiece with a 2-1 win Thursday in front of a record standing-room-only crowd of 19,202 at PNC Arena.
“There’s a lot of belief in this group,” Teravainen said after the win. “I feel like from the outside, a lot of people don’t believe us. But in the inside here, everybody believes.”
The Hurricanes will return to the nation’s capital for Game 5 on Saturday night, looking to carry momentum from back-to-back home wins — in front of crowds that were reminiscent of past playoff madness in Raleigh — and turn it into success on the road.
“All we’ve done is we’ve held serve,” captain Justin Williams said. “We’re going to have to, obviously, take care of our home and we’re going to have to get one there. We know that. Hopefully it’ll be the next one, but if it’s not we’ll keep plugging.”
The Hurricanes seized momentum in Game 4 early, igniting the crowd when Foegele scored on the game’s first shift.
Defenseman Jaccob Slavin led an end-to-end rush and gave the puck to Williams, who returned the puck to Slavin. Slavin tapped the puck to Foegele — moved up into the top six because of injuries suffered in Game 3 to Andrei Svechnikov and Micheal Ferland — who whacked into the net for his third goal of the series.
“It just shows our depth,” defenseman Dougie Hamilton said. “Everyone wants more opportunity, so when you get it, take advantage of it. I think that’s like Foegele right now. He had an opportunity at the start (of the season), did pretty well, and he’s getting it now and he’s producing.”
Foegele now has three goals and five points in the series’ first four games.
The Capitals tied the game just past the midway point when Ovechkin got his second goal of the series with a power play blast from his patented spot at the left circle.
It looked like Washington had seized momentum, but — as Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour is fond of saying — the Capitals “took a breath” in the final minute of the middle frame.
Sebastian Aho carried the puck into the Washington zone and fed it to Nino Niederreiter. Niederreiter spotted Teravainen rocketing through the slot, got him the puck, and Teravainen wristed his shot past Braden Holtby (22 saves) to make it 2-1 with just 28 seconds left in the second period.
“I saw Nino got the puck and I was a little open, so I just took a couple steps and I had a pretty good chance,” Teravainen said. “I felt pretty lucky — just close my eyes and put it in.”
The Hurricanes played the final two periods without Jordan Martinook, who was injured when he crashed awkwardly into the boards on an attempted hit. Brind’Amour said Martinook may have reaggravated a season-long injury he has been dealing with.
The Capitals also lost a key player, when a Foegele shove from behind on T.J. Oshie led to the Capitals winger crashing into the boards and suffering an upper-body injury. Coach Todd Reirden would only say Oshie “would not be playing any time soon,” and he called from the league to look into Foegele’s hit for further discipline.
Foegele was given a boarding minor, but Carolina killed off the penalty and survived a Capitals flurry after the penalty expired, with Petr Mrazek (30 saves) again making standout stops to preserve the lead.
A frustrated Ovechkin wasn’t willing to give Mrazek much credit after the game.
“Nothing, nothing,” Ovechkin responded when asked what Mrazek is doing to shut down the Capitals. “We didn’t play our way. Nothing special. He’s a good goalie, but we have to be better.”
Brind’Amour, despite seeing his team win the last two games, thinks the Hurricanes need to be better, too.
“We found our way all year, so we’ll see.”
Notes: Calvin de Haan returned to the lineup, playing for the first time since he was injured March 31 in Pittsburgh. Haydn Fleury was scratched to make room for him. … With Svechnikov and Ferland hurt, Saku Maenalanen returned to the lineup, while Patrick Brown made his NHL playoff debut. … Game 5 in Washington will be at 8 p.m. on NBC, while Game 6 back in Raleigh will be Monday (time to be determined. Game 7, if necessary, would be Wednesday back at Capital One Arena.