The Washington Capitals have the Carolina Hurricanes on the ropes tonight and it appears like they’ve figured out the key to beating them. For only the second time in the series the Caps outhit the Canes but this time they did it in dominant fashion, 48 hits to 32 for the Canes.
The only two games where one team put an emphasis on hitting were games 3 and 5, both were blowouts. In game 3 it was the Canes who imposed a physical presence and came out with a 5-0 win and then game 5 the Caps responded with a physical game of their own, winning 6-0.
In Todd Reirden’s press conference on Sunday, he spoke about playing a more physical game saying, “We knew we needed a more physical investment and particularly on their defensemen. That was a discussion point for us and something that we felt could give us a better chance to have success. […] It’s a physical game and then once you’ve broken a team physically than you can start to use your skillset.”
Hitting can be a bit misleading because if you’re racking up the hits it might be because you never have the puck but in game 5 it was pretty clear the Caps were all-in on setting the tone physically, led by their captain, Alex Ovechkin, who had a game-high 11 hits. At one point in the second period, he went in to forecheck on Dougie Hamilton who shied away from the hit which gave Ovechkin the room necessary to find Brett Connolly in the slot for a goal.
The Caps physicality took a toll out of the Canes who started gripping their sticks a bit tighter and looked jumpy any time they had the puck. Just like on this goal, instead of playing calm and putting the puck in deep during a change, Warren Foegele sees Dmitry Orlov stepping up on him and he panics going for a no-look pass across the ice but there’s no one there, leading to an odd-man rush and eventually a goal.
For the Caps to close out the series tonight they need to play the exact same way. Force Carolina’s defense to have to turn their backs and hunt down pucks with a guy barreling in on the forecheck. The Caps have the size to play heavy like that and just like Reirden said, once they’ve broken Carolina physically they can turn to their skill to win them the game.
(Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)