Sports

Five points for the Hurricanes going into Game 5

Washington Capitals’ goalie Braden Holtby (70) stops a shot by Carolina Hurricanes’ Sebastian Aho (20) during the second period in game four of the first round Stanley Cup series game on Thursday, April 18, 2019 at the PNC Arena in Raleigh, N.C.
Washington Capitals’ goalie Braden Holtby (70) stops a shot by Carolina Hurricanes’ Sebastian Aho (20) during the second period in game four of the first round Stanley Cup series game on Thursday, April 18, 2019 at the PNC Arena in Raleigh, N.C. rwillett@newsobserver.com

1. KEEP ON KEEPING ON The Hurricanes’ 61 percent possession edge five-on-five is the biggest of any team in the playoffs, and not entirely out of character with their regular season. At even strength, at least, they’re playing the way they need to play to win the series.

2. OLD NO. 74 Jaccob Slavin is tied for the team lead in points (five), is second in ice time (behind Justin Faulk) and put on a Game 4 masterclass in relieving pressure with the puck, single-handedly disarming the Washington forecheck at times. The Hurricanes won’t get to pick his matchups on the road the way they did at home, but they need to continue to make the effort to get him out against Alex Ovechkin.

3. NEXT MAN UP It’s an old hockey cliché, but with the Hurricanes down three forwards – assuming Andrei Svechnikov remains out – Aleksi Saarela will make his NHL debut in Game 5, which figures to be an angry mess given Washington’s (misplaced) outrage over T.J. Oshie’s injury. That’s a lot to ask of anyone. Patrick Brown was probably a hair too cautious, and understandably so, in Game 4. Both Brown and Saarela need to play with confidence and vigor Saturday or they’re going to get overwhelmed.

4. FLIP THE SWITCH (STILL) Slavin and Dougie Hamilton have combined for five of the Hurricanes’ nine power-play points. Give their unit the full two minutes, see what happens.

5. YOUR BEST PLAYERS HAVE TO BE YOUR BEST PLAYERS (STILL) As good as Jordan Staal’s two-way game has been, and even as Sebastian Aho and Teuvo Teravainen finally combined for a goal, the Hurricanes need their big guns firing. Aho needs to take over a game the way he can, possessing the puck, skating with it, making plays. If he’s as good as the Hurricanes think he is, it’s time for him to win a game for them.

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.

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