(Ed. note: this is a guest post from Pat Keogh, aka @pdk_hockey. Want to contribute a guest post? Send us an email: mail AT section328.com and we’ll be happy to take a look.)

The Canes are in the playoffs. This has been a long time coming, but it’s nerve wracking heading into the first round after such a long hiatus, especially when you’re playing the defending Cup champions with their generational goal-scorer leading the way. There was a lot worth working on in Game 1, but there was a lot to be excited about too. You might think that it’s more about the latter than the former, but the thing is that they’re actually deeply, deeply related, and the good news is that these Carolina Hurricanes, with their own fearless leaders behind the bench and wearing the C, are well up to the task.

Let’s get the bad stuff out of the way first: too many damn penalties. This one is pretty indisputable – they definitely were in the box – and it’s especially risky against a team with Alex Ovechkin on it. The same goes for poorly-timed passes, jittery decision making, and a general sense of something just not being quite there. That’s in part a discipline thing, in that players need to just not make stupid mistakes, which stems in a lot of ways from the lack of playoff experience present in most of this group. There’s a broader mindset implicated in all of that, and it comes from the same place – the playoffs are by definition high stakes, and when you start on the road against a team whose fans are riding high, feeling so much pressure as far as giving the true-believer fans meaningful postseason hockey, it’s easy to feel the heat. They have everything to lose though, and the Canes have everything to gain.

It’s the ol’ lemons-into-lemonade thing, turning an underdog story into a Cinderella tale, and the good news is that there’s leadership there, with the aforementioned Rod Brind’Amour calling the shots and Justin Williams, Mr. Game 7 himself, setting the standard of compete level and resiliency necessary in playoff hockey. In order for this campaign to be a successful one, the team is going to have to get behind them and come together accordingly. The other good news is that they’re fully capable of doing so.

Why are they capable? Because this team is talented. Because this team has been working towards this goal not just all season, but ever since their last springtime march towards glory. Most of all though, it’s because this team plays like a team. They’ve been able to put all of that skill and all of that motivation together before this season, and it’s more than just possible that they make it happen again.

The Hurricanes have been playing playoff hockey well in advance of their showdown with the Caps, given the end of the regular season, and they’ve shown the whole sporting world what joy looks like. Energy of that kind is not easily beaten, not easily diminished by credentials or loudmouth comments on Canadian television. It’s what separates great teams from good ones, because at the end of the day the real champions are the ones who never forget the dream of winning a Stanley Cup. So be confident. Confident that your goalie will make the stops. Confident that stars like Sepe and depth guys alike can contribute effectively. Confident that these Carolina Hurricanes will not give up on you.

One way or another the Caps are beatable, and in fact have been beaten early many times over the past decade-plus. Better Caps teams have lost in the first round before, and worse ones have made it all the way up the mountain. All of that is to say it’s anybody’s game, yours included. Playoff hockey means that it’s the fans, not just the players, that don’t quit. As with the guys on the ice, I have every reason to believe it’ll happen.