Led by budding superstar forwards Sebastian Aho and Andrei Svechnikov, the Carolina Hurricanes are looking to recapture the magic of their unlikely run to the Eastern Conference Finals in 2019 again in the unusual 2020 NHL playoffs.
If the Hurricanes want to be the team raising the Cup at the end, they will need consistent goaltending, a high-scoring powerplay, and some injury luck. While a successful power play and superstar goalie seem like obvious keys to success in the NHL, the well-constructed Hurricanes roster should be a Cup favorite with these two boxes checked.
The team boasts one of the deepest defensemen corps in the league, with five top pairing players (Dougie Hamilton, Jaccob Slavin, Brady Skjei, Brett Pesce, and Sami Vatanen). Up front, the Canes are led by the trio of Aho, Svechnikov, and Teuvo Teravainen, who each had over 60 points when the season paused. The scoring doesn’t stop there, though, as Ryan Dzingel, Martin Necas, Warren Foegele, and Vincent Trocheck can all score in bunches.
Ever since Cam Ward’s unbelievable performance in the 2006 Stanley Cup Playoffs, the Hurricanes have not had a consistently great goalie. Last year, Petr Mrazek got hot at the right time and played very well down the stretch. This season, Mrazek has had a year of ups and downs. While he went 16-8-2 before the new year, his record dropped to just 5-8 in 2020. The NHL Playoffs often come down to who has a hot goalie, so the Hurricanes need Mrazek to play like he did in the first half of the season.
The playoffs are all about momentum, and a goalie who is standing on his head can give a team a huge advantage in the emotion of the game. However, Mrazek is not the only goaltending option for the Hurricanes. James Reimer stepped in this season and exceeded expectations as the backup, going 14-6-2 with a stellar .914 save percentage. Most teams choose one goalie for the playoffs, but I would not be surprised to see Rod Brind’Amour use a 1A/1B goalie strategy and ride the hot hand each night. Mrazek struggled against the Rangers during the regular season, allowing 10 goals in 3 losses, so Brind’Amour may want to give Reimer the start in the opening series.
While goaltending will certainly be important, the Hurricanes’ offense will rely on the success of the power play. In last year’s postseason, the Hurricanes scored on just 9.6% of their power-play opportunities. The momentum swing from a big power-play goal can change the course of a series, so taking advantage of those opportunities is vital to winning the ultimate prize.
If Hamilton is fully recovered from his mid-season leg injury when games start, the Hurricanes should be more confident in their power play. Hamilton recorded 12 power-play points in just 48 games this season and looked excellent all year at the point of the special teams. The 26-year-old defenseman has superb offensive skills and controls the power play with smart passing. Expect Brind’Amour to get Hamilton on the ice as much as possible when the Hurricanes are a man up, if only to avoid the suffering of watching chances disappear like last year.
This roster is well-balanced, youthful, and talented, so don’t be surprised if the Hurricanes make another deep run in this year’s playoffs. If Brind’Amour can get the power play working and the goalies locked in, I would expect the Hurricanes to at least win two rounds this year again. The health of Hamilton, Pesce, and Necas is still unknown, but I still would not count out this team. Brind’Amour runs a tight ship and Justin Williams should continue to show the youngsters how to win when it matters the most.