RALEIGH — The Carolina Hurricanes exited Game 3 of their first-round series with the Washington Capitals battle-scarred but also with a win to halve the defending Stanley Cup champions lead at two games to one.
They also may have found a path to victory.
Carolina crushed the Capitals in front of a standing-room-only crowd of 18,783 Monday at PNC Arena, delivering 52 hits — 20 on Washington’s six defensemen — despite having the puck most of the night while outshooting their opponent 45-18.
It was a performance that exposed the Capitals’ biggest weakness: With Michal Kempny out for the season, who will help John Carlson get the puck out of the Washington end?
It also showcased the Hurricanes are their swarming best.
“Everybody’s trying to do the same things,” Brind’Amour said a day after Monday’s 5-0 win at PNC Arena. “You talk to them, and they want to get pucks in and try and get on the other team. Everyone tries to do that, it just seems like whoever can kind of get to it first has an advantage.”
That doesn’t mean Carolina didn’t do it perfectly in Game 3.
Jordan Staal finished with 10 hits, five dealt out to Caps blueliners. Jordan Martinook and Brock McGinn each had three hits on Washington defenders.
Nick Jensen — struggling to be this year’s Kempny for the Caps — was hit six times. Dmitry Orlov and Matt Niskanen were hit four times apiece. Carlson took three hits, while Christian Djoos was hit twice and Brooks Orpik once.
And it wasn’t just Carolina’s bangers doing the damage. Sebastian Aho also finished with four hits, three on defensemen, and looked to regain some of the mojo that’s been missing from his game since early March.
“I thought he had a good game,” Brind’Amour said. I still think there’s another gear. I think he passed up a lot of shot opportunities. He did make a nice play on the one goal but we got to get him thinking about putting pucks toward the net a little more, I think.”
That will be important for the balance of the series because, despite winning the game, Carolina left Game 3 with the biggest dents in its roster.
Andrei Svechnikov’s ill-advised fight with the bigger and more experienced Alexander Ovechkin left the rookie concussed and likely to miss Game 4 Thursday in Raleigh. There was no update on Micheal Ferland, who left the game in the first period after checking the Capitals’ Tom Wilson.
Brind’Amour said the Hurricanes will be cautious with Svechnikov, but the coach did say he spoke to the 19-year-old rookie and was optimistic about his recovery.
“From seeing him now, he looks normal and he feels great. So that’s a real positive sign,” Brind’Amour said.
That means the Hurricanes could (again) be down two top-nine forwards in their efforts to even the series. Fortunately, having two days off between games gives Carolina an opportunity to both assess its injuries and take time in deciding how to fill out the lineup.
“We needed the two days,” Brind’Amour said. “Part of it says, ‘Oh, it would be great to just go right back at it and play,’ but there was a huge emotional investment in that game for our guys. … This is going to be nice to, I’m hoping anyway, reset and then come again hopefully with a lot of energy.”
Carolina opted to recall depth forward Patrick Brown, the Charlotte Checkers’ captain, rather than top prospect Martin Necas, hulking winger Julien Gauthier or two-way forward Janne Kuokkanen.
The Hurricanes are also hoping to get Calvin de Haan back soon on defense, and — with Saku Maenalanen poised to take one of the forward vacancies — Carolina could opt to play seven defensemen and 11 forwards if de Haan is available to play.
Regardless, the Hurricanes will need to bring the same effort — and match the energy of PNC Arena — to jump on Washington in Game 4 and even the series.
“Hopefully the building’s the same — which, obviously, I think it will be — and then we can feed off that,” Brind’Amour said. “That’s where home ice makes a difference, and we need every advantage we can get.”
And, as Brind’Amour has preached all season, the Hurricanes need to do less thinking and more playing.
“They just went and played, and that’s what we’ve got to do Thursday night,” Brind’Amour said. “We’re playing the best, but you gotta go do what we do. We try to worry about what they’re doing too much, they’ll pick us apart.”