After rough start, Hurricanes make it known they won’t go quietly

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Canes fall to Caps in Game 1

Check out photos from game 1 of the Carolina Hurricanes playoff series against the Washington Capitals Thursday night, April 11, 2019.

Check out photos from game 1 of the Carolina Hurricanes playoff series against the Washington Capitals Thursday night, April 11, 2019.

After 10 years, you would have hoped for better than this, a worst-case first period as far as playoff openers go. After 10 years and two periods, the Carolina Hurricanes served notice that they would not go quietly, setting the stage for a playoff series that might just turn out to be everything anyone could have hoped, win or lose.

It was a reminder of the old hockey proverb: It’s a long series. You can’t get swept in the first period.

The Hurricanes had two third-period power plays down a goal and couldn’t convert, but they’ll exit this one feeling better about their chances in the series after a 4-2 loss to the Washington Capitals in Game 1.

Still, after waiting this long, working this hard to get back in this position, Thursday was a cruel and harsh reawakening to the unforgiving realities of postseason hockey, from the capriciousness of the officiating to the precious, rare value of every scoring chance. Road games are tough, and it’s not because the hotels are bad.

The good news, such as it is, is that the Hurricanes never appeared awed by the moment, stuck to their game, gave as good as they got and have every right to focus on the process, not the results. They found their feet in the third with a great shift by Jordan Martinook, a triptych of great saves by Petr Mrazek and a pair of Andrei Svechnikov goals after some line shuffling generated a spark.

But you also can’t let Nicklas Backstrom cut to the middle, or take sloppy penalties, or leave Backstrom (again) open on the back door on the ensuing power play, or fail to get a stick on the puck when it’s about to land on the blade of Alex Ovechkin 10 feet from the net, all of which the Hurricanes did in the first period to seal their fate.

And maybe there were some first-period jitters there: Mrazek either not ready or slightly screened on Backstrom’s top-corner shot, Brett Pesce worrying too much about Ovechkin and forgetting about Backstrom, or any of Brock McGinn’s errors that will demand Saku Maenalanen’s entry into the Game 2 lineup.

There was also the acclimatization to the harsh realities of playoff officiating, right down to Matt Niskanen attempting multiple decapitations during a second-period Carolina power play, knowing the referees would do just about anything to avoid giving one team a two-man advantage. Brooks Orpik put on a clinic against poor Svechnikov, knowing just how far he could go without getting called. Micheal Ferland, meanwhile, needlessly tacked on an extra hit right in front of the ref. They’ll learn. Svechnikov took yet another offensive-zone penalty. He may never learn.

The Caps were the Caps. Ovechkin had 11 of their 43 shot attempts through two periods. They scored twice on the power play. John Carlson assisted on the first three goals. Their quality was better than the Canes’ quantity.

The Hurricanes did what you can’t do against the Capitals, and that’s take penalties and let them get to the middle. That’s no way to win in Washington in the playoffs. That’s no way to go through this series. That’s no way to go through life.

And, while not to pin everything on one player, the Hurricanes aren’t built to win a playoff series without something from Sebastian Aho, now 15 games without a goal. Or Ferland, who had a golden chance down a goal in the third but hasn’t scored since February.

They get another chance Saturday afternoon. There is, as the saying goes, a lot of hockey left. Rod Brind’Amour, Thursday morning, couldn’t even remember the Hurricanes’ Game 1 flop in New Jersey in 2009. In time, the Hurricanes may yet make this defeat equally forgettable, and their third period is a place to start.

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