After getting pounded into boards, Hurricanes’ backs against the wall

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Washington Capitals’ Brooks Orpik (44) checks Carolina Hurricanes’ Warren Foegele (13) to the ice during the first period during game five of their first round Stanley Cup series game on Saturday, April 20, 2018 at Capital One Arena in Washington, D.C.

Washington Capitals’ Brooks Orpik (44) checks Carolina Hurricanes’ Warren Foegele (13) to the ice during the first period during game five of their first round Stanley Cup series game on Saturday, April 20, 2018 at Capital One Arena in Washington, D.C.

They heard footsteps everywhere. Warren Foegele at the blue line, Dougie Hamilton behind the net, everyone else all over the place.

The Carolina Hurricanes got hit out of this one, pounded into the ice and the boards by the Washington Capitals. Not always legally – the typically reckless Tom Wilson got away with a hit to Greg McKegg’s head – but exponentially more frequently and with more willingness than the Hurricanes connected.

At home, the Hurricanes were able to match and even exceed the Capitals’ physical edge, fueled by their crowd, finishing checks, holding their own. Saturday, they got run off the ice, right from the start. They got beat up, then they got beat 6-0. They played timid and tentative.

“To a man everyone in the room needed a little more fight, a little more edge to our game,” Hurricanes center Jordan Staal said. “We didn’t have that. It showed.”

It was as out of character as any game the Hurricanes have played this season, and it came at the worst possible time. They may not be the hardest-hitting team in the league, but they have rarely shied away from it the way they did Saturday, backing into checks and stepping out of them. The Capitals are in the lead and in their heads.

Their backs go from against the boards to against the wall Monday in Game 6, with the reward for a win there a return to Washington for Game 7, where they would have to find a way to do better than this should they even earn that opportunity.

“I didn’t see that coming,” Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour said. “We were bad from start to finish. It’s tough to pick out a guy I thought had a good game. This time of year, we need everybody on board and for whatever reason we were all just a step behind. The score is indicative of the game.

“We didn’t look like we were up for it, for whatever reason. I get it, we’ve got some new guys in the lineup and there’s some other things, but we definitely didn’t match the level of intensity that needs to be there this time of year.”

If there was ever a game they could have used Micheal Ferland, this was it, but he didn’t even make the trip, apparently exiled since his Game 3 exit. Without Ferland and without Jordan Martinook and without Andrei Svechnikov, only Saku Manaelanen even looked interested in throwing his body around.

It was an odd no-show given the way the Hurricanes played their way back into this series with ferocity in Raleigh. Outhit, outforechecked, outplayed in the neutral zone, the Hurricanes could gather no momentum, never got to their game.

Even at 1-0, it felt like a blowout. At 3-0, it was.

And for all that, the Capitals let the Hurricanes hang around for most of two periods, including four fruitless power plays. “Garbage,” Staal said of the Hurricanes with the man advantage. There was a window to steal this one, even for all that went wrong, until the Hurricanes slammed it shut on themselves in the final five minutes of the second.

Foegele, instead of dumping the puck at the end of a power play, turned it over at the offensive blue line. Alex Ovechkin found Nicklas Backstrom to make it 2-0. Then Hamilton let Ovechkin steal the puck behind the Carolina net and feed a cutting Brett Connolly to make it 3-0. The ever-popular Wilson tacked on another on a power play early in the third, and it was on to Game 6 for everyone.

You can chalk this up to the energy the Capitals drew from the crowd and T.J. Oshie’s injury in Game 4 – the crowd chanted Oshie’s name in the third – but even if the Hurricanes win Game 6, they’re going to have to figure out a way to deal with all of that in Game 7. They haven’t won a game in this building since March 2018, and while there was more than a glimmer of hope in the first two games there was nothing of the sort Saturday.

“They wanted it more,” Hurricanes captain Justin Williams said.

It may very well turn out that this series hinged on Brooks Orpik’s overtime goal to end Game 2, which to this point is as close as the Hurricanes have come to a road win.

They only need one, as Williams pointed out again Saturday morning, but they weren’t even close Saturday night. The home team hasn’t trailed at any point in this series, and there was no danger of that in this one. Even if the Hurricanes earn their way back, there’s no point in making the trip if they’re going to play like this.

Sports columnist Luke DeCock has covered the Summer Olympics, the Final Four, the Super Bowl and the Carolina Hurricanes’ Stanley Cup. He joined The News & Observer in 2000 to cover the Hurricanes and the NHL before becoming a columnist in 2008. A native of Evanston, Ill., he graduated from the University of Pennsylvania and has won multiple national and state awards for his columns and feature writing while twice being named North Carolina Sportswriter of the Year.