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Stanley Cup Playoffs 2019: Capitals seek commanding series lead over Carolina Hurricanes in Game 3


The Capitals are in control of their series as it shifts to Raleigh. (Nick Wass)

Game 3
Washington Capitals vs. Carolina Hurricanes

Series: Capitals lead, 2-0 | Monday, 7 p.m. ET, PNC Arena | TV: NBC Sports Washington, CNBC

Live updates: The latest highlights and analysis from Game 3. Read more

Top story lines: PNC Arena is hosting its first playoff game in a decade, and players from both locker rooms are expecting a lively environment. The Capitals were especially successful on the road last season, winning 10 of their 13 away games during the playoffs. Read more

Players to watch: Carolina will again start goaltender Petr Mrazek. He’s last among goaltenders who have logged at least 50 minutes this postseason with an even-strength save percentage of .857, and his high-danger save percentage has dropped to .818. Read more

Pregame reading: Catch up on all The Post’s coverage of the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Read more

Current series: Capitals lead 2-0

Live updates

No score after 5 minutes: Neither team has made a mark on the scoreboard early, despite a few decent chances for Alex Ovechkin and the Capitals. Washington’s top line has been by far its best in Game 3 to this point.

Canes switch the matchups early: After Evgeny Kuznetsov’s line matched up with Carolina’s top forward unit led by Sebastian Aho the first two games, it looks like the Hurricanes will try to match that top line against Nicklas Backstrom’s line early in Game 3. While Kuznetsov is better suited to match a speed threat like Aho, Backstrom is considered the Caps’ top defensive center.

Hurricanes are ready to rock: The Hurricanes have been mocked for the meager crowds for years, but with this Carolina’s first home playoff game in a decade, the parking lots were full of tailgaiters more than an hour before puck drop. College sports tend to rule in the South, and we’ve seen hockey games in these markets take on a similar vibe with scripted chanting. The Capitals got off to strong starts in the first two games with multi-goal leads, and if they do that again tonight, that could take the Hurricanes’ crowd out of it early.

Top story lines

First playoff game in a decade: Carolina will be playing its first postseason game in a decade Monday night at PNC Arena. The last time the Hurricanes played a playoff game at home was May 26, 2009 for Game 4 of the Eastern Conference finals against Pittsburgh. The Penguins were up 3-0 in the series and beat the Hurricanes 4-1 for a 4-0 series sweep. The Penguins ended up winning the Stanley Cup that spring. Current Capitals defenseman Brooks Orpik was a member of the Penguins at the time.

Carolina Coach Rod Brind’Amour, who himself played in playoff games at PNC Arena, said he expects the emotion in the building will be high, and for the city, it will “be nice to have a home game … and hopefully will give them a lot to cheer about.”

“This is an extremely important game,” Carolina captain Justin Williams said. “It is not a go-home game, but it is an extremely important game. … We need to get ourselves back into this series and we need to do it for this game.”

The Capitals won in PNC Arena twice during the regular season and are aware of the hostile environment the building will offer. Capitals Coach Todd Reirden said he prepared his players for the extra energy coursing through the building Monday night and to expect a very “urgent, desperate team that is going to get a lot of energy from this crowd tonight.” He was an assistant coach on that 2009 Penguins team.

“I think we have to be prepared, definitely,” forward T.J. Oshie said. “Them coming back into this building, obviously they have done a pretty good job with the fans this year and getting them involved and I’m sure they are going to be fired up for tonight. We can’t be surprised by it. We played in other loud, hostile buildings before and we have to use that experience as motivation.”

The Capitals went 10-3 on the road in last year’s playoffs. During the regular season, Washington won 24 out of 41 road games. On Monday morning, players brought back a tradition from last postseason, when one player would take a “hot lap” around the ice before morning skates on the road.

“When you get on the road, we are just having fun with it,” said forward Tom Wilson. “We just want to win more and more and just trying to win the next game. And when you look back on it, I guess it is a good road record, but every game is huge, doesn’t matter whether you are home or on the road.”

Role reversal: While Caps center Nicklas Backstrom has scored a team-high three goals, Alex Ovechkin’s most highlight-reel moments in the first two games have come courtesy of his passing.

“When you play with [center Evgeny Kuznetsov] or Backy, you know, you learn a lot,” Ovechkin said Saturday. “Right now, Backy is a scoring machine. You know, I’m Backstrom.”

Game 2 might have been one of the more dominant contests Ovechkin has ever played without scoring a goal. He had seven hits. On his second shift of the game, he had a furious backcheck to disrupt a scoring chance, then he crushed Hurricanes defenseman Brett Pesce in the corner. He capped it all off by setting up Backstrom at the backdoor on a rush.

“I can’t talk enough about his overall game and that was a key to us having the success we did last year,” Reirden said after Game 2. “When your captain is doing that and your leading goal scorer is doing that, then all the sudden people fall in line pretty quickly.”

After the longest playoff run of his career last season, it was unclear how Ovechkin, 33, would hold up this season, but he arrived to training camp trim and has been one of Washington’s most consistent players, scoring a league-leading 51 goals. And while Ovechkin prefers a lot of ice time, his 20:55 per game was the most he’s skated since the 2010-11 season, when he was 25. Rather than wear him out, it seemingly helped him enter the playoffs on a roll.

Ovechkin, Backstrom and the Capitals’ other top, skilled players have been stellar through two games, but the team would probably like to see more from its bottom-six forward corps. The third and fourth lines haven’t gotten on the board yet, and perhaps as a way to spark those groups, Reirden’s one tweak ahead of Game 3 was bumping left wing Jakub Vrana to a second-line trio with Kuznetsov while Carl Hagelin will skate on the third line with center Lars Eller and Brett Connolly. Vrana and Eller both eclipsed 40 points this season, but neither has a postseason tally yet.

Disparity with top-six scoring: Through two games, Carolina has only produced two top-six goals, one from second-line center Jordan Staal in Game 1 and the other from top-line center Sebastian Aho. For the Capitals, their top-six forwards scored a combined six goals, including two on the power play.

“If we don’t get our best players playing their best, we aren’t going to win,” Brind’Amour said. “That is pretty standard across the board. We need a little more out of them, obviously.”

During morning skate prior to Game 3 on Monday, the Hurricanes switched up their top-six forwards with the promotion of Andrei Svechnikov to the second line alongside Staal and Williams. Svechnikov, 19, scored two third-period goals in Game 1. Williams said Svechnikov has “been a very impactful player through two games.”

Williams also called out his own line as needing to step up in the playoffs after the Game 2 loss.

“It is not physical, it’s a little bit more mental,” Williams said. “Being a little bit more mentally ready to play good defensively and check. When you check teams, you get good opportunities, and I don’t mean body check. You body check, great, but when you don’t give them space, that’s when you get opportunities.”

For Aho, his Game 2 goal was his first in 16 games, despite leading the team in the regular season with 83 points (30 goals, 53 assists). Brind’Amour said he thought others were putting too much emphasis on Aho’s scoring drought, but said the young 21-year-old forward had to step up and play better as this series goes on.

“It’s not like we’re playing bad, but this time of year you’ve got to get that extra step and play even better,” Aho said after Game 2. “Okay is not okay so just try to play our best.”

Players to watch

Brooks Orpik: Orpik was the hero of Game 2 but up until that point he struggled facing off against Carolina’s second line, led by Jordan Staal. At even strength, Staal and his linemates managed nine scoring chances, three from the slot or crease, in six minutes and 15 seconds of ice time against Orpik’s pairing.

What’s remarkable about this production is Staal’s line did it without the benefit of starting in the offensive zone. Two of his shifts were started in the neutral zone off a face off and four others were “on the fly,” illustrating how Carolina was able to take advantage of Orpik’s lack of speed.

With the location shifting to PNC Arena in Raleigh, Carolina Coach Rod Brind’Amour has the benefit of last change, and he will no doubt seek to get both of his top-six trios up against Orpik’s pairing in Game 3 as much as possible at even strength.

Petr Mrazek: Mrazek ended the regular season with a .914 save percentage, worth five goals more than an average goaltender facing the same number and quality of shots. His .929 save percentage at even strength and .931 save rate against high-danger chances were both the eighth best in the NHL. In this series, however, he hasn’t been at the top of his game.

The 27-year-old is 16th out of 16 goalies for even-strength save percentage (.857) among netminders playing at least 50 minutes this postseason and his high-danger save percentage has dropped to .818, a below-average success rate among this group. Mrazek has also stopped just three of five high-danger chances against on the penalty kill, a soft spot for him during the regular season as well.

Perhaps Brind’Amour gives Curtis McElhinney a chance in net but don’t expect too much of an upgrade — what improvement McElhinney brings on the penalty kill is negated by his inferior performance at even strength.

Pregame reading

Immerse yourself in the Capitals’ postseason with The Post’s coverage of the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Christian Djoos has barely seen the ice these playoffs. His coaches want that to change.

This could be Brooks Orpik’s last run with the Capitals. He’s making it count.

Jerry Brewer: Capitals in control where it truly matters

Carolina captain Justin Williams helped turn the Capitals into Stanley Cup champions

By emphasizing quality over quantity, the Capitals made their shots count in a Game 1 victory

Jerry Brewer: Capitals learn Stanley Cup championship carry-over can carry them only so far

Capitals survive third-period scare, open Stanley Cup defense with 4-2 win over Carolina Hurricanes

How well do you remember the Capitals’ Stanley Cup run? Take our quiz.

Capitals re-sign fourth-line center Nic Dowd to three-year, $2.25 million deal

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