RALEIGH, N.C. — Coming off their most lopsided playoff defeat in nearly six years, the Capitals will have a different look for Game 4 against the Carolina Hurricanes.
At practice Wednesday at PNC Arena, all four of Washington’s forwards trios underwent some degree of change, as did the team’s third defensive pairing. The Capitals were in need of a shake-up following a lackluster 5-0 defeat in Game 3 Monday. Washington still leads the series 2-1, but momentum has shifted to Carolina.
Among the notable changes to Washington’s lineup: T.J. Oshie will reunite with Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom on the top line, while Tom Wilson will join Jakub Vrana and Evgeny Kuznetsov on the second line.
Andre Burakovsky goes from the fourth line to the third, where he will skate alongside Lars Eller and Brett Connolly. On the back end, rookie Jonas Siegenthaler is expected to take Christian Djoos’ place on the third defensive pair and partner with Brooks Orpik.
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The Hurricanes dictated play for much of Game 3 and at one point outshot the Capitals 37-4 over a 45-minute stretch.
“We didn’t do a lot great so there’s a lot of room for improvement off our last performance,” said Oshie. “I think we have to get back to a direct, hardworking focus. I feel like we wanted the game to come a little easier to us and they ramped up their game, and you could tell with not only the score, but with shots and how the play went. We’ve got to be better, and we will.”
Secondary scoring was among the key ingredients during last year’s Stanley Cup run, but the Capitals’ bottom-six has been relatively quiet this spring.
Through three games against the Hurricanes, Lars Eller has been limited to one empty-net goal, while Jakub Vrana, Brett Connolly, Carl Hagelin and Andre Burakovsky are all still seeking their first point of the playoffs.
Connolly had career-highs across the board during the regular season with 22 goals and 46 points.
“I don’t think me and Lars have played our best these last three games,” Connolly said after practice Wednesday. “Games 1 and 2 were our better games, but we had our chances and didn’t convert. Last game, for whatever reason, (we) couldn’t get anything going, and we are going to have to be better if we want to win the series. We know that.”
Burakovsky will join Eller and Connolly for Game 4, reuniting a trio that has historically produced when playing together over the last three seasons.
“Every time we’ve been playing together we’ve been having success,” Burakovsky said. “We have a good combination with a little bit of everything on that line. I feel really comfortable playing with those two guys.”
For the first time this spring, the Capitals are facing some adversity. It’s hardly a hit-the-panic-button situation, but the Capitals had a real clunker in Game 3 and could be in a heap of trouble if they don’t turn things around.
That said, the Capitals faced far more dire situations last spring and showed a knack for responding. Whether it was a 2-0 first-round series deficit to Columbus, or three consecutive losses to Tampa Bay in the Eastern Conference Final, there was no shortage of adversity last spring and the Capitals fought through it. And that was before they had a Stanley Cup on their resume.
Now the Capitals not only know they have it in them to respond and bounce back, but they have a championship pedigree to boot.
According to forward Carl Hagelin, the only back-to-back Cup champion on the Capitals roster, their status as the defending champs could be a tremendous advantage in Game 4 Thursday.
“You’ve got to use that (championship) swagger to win games,” Hagelin said before the playoffs.
“But if you lose a game, you’ve got to use your experience to come out flying the next game. If you do that, the other team will be on their heels a little bit. It reminds them, ‘Oh, these are the champs; these guys have won it before. They know what it takes.’ So, yes, you have a target, but on the other hand, if you handle that the right way, and you set the tone, or respond after a setback, it can create doubt in the opposition.”
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