As the Washington Capitals enter the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs, they are looking strong as ever. While they have enjoyed some postseason success in recent years, the league’s top prize has continued to elude them. The Capitals sincerely hope that this is THE year in which they finally hoist Lord Stanley. However, Alex Ovechkin & Co. must first get by the Columbus Blue Jackets. This will be no easy task.
Logistically, the Capitals would seem to be content with this matchup. Washington won the regular season series three games to one. That said, Columbus’ improved play in the season’s second half should provide the Blue Jackets faithful some hope. Although the Capitals won the first three contests of the season, the Jackets won their regular-season finale 5-1 The Caps, meanwhile, won twice on one-goal leads. They won the remaining game by two goals while getting outshot 37-17.
December 2, 2017: Capitals 4, Blue Jackets 3
February 6, 2018: Capitals 3, Blue Jackets 2
February 9, 2018: Capitals 4, Blue Jackets 2
February 26, 2018: Blue Jackets 5, Capitals 1
While Alex Ovechkin is always the source of attention (and rightfully so), this series presents a potentially intriguing battle of goaltenders. The 2017-18 season was not the greatest for Capitals backstop Braden Holtby. His .907 save percentage was the worst mark of his career. Backup Philipp Grubauer had better numbers this season but has just 78:34 of playoff experience. It will be interesting to see how the Caps will look to share the time between the pipes. At the other end, Sergei Bobrovsky had another solid campaign. He posted a .921 save percentage with five shutouts. Though he has struggled in the postseason, his play could be the ‘x-factor’ in this series.
For the Blue Jackets, centre Pierre-Luc Dubois will run right up against Nicklas Backstrom and Evgeny Kuznetsov. The third-overall pick in the 2016 draft has slowly worked his way up this lineup all season. He started slowly, with five points in his first 23 games. However, he finished with 24 points in 29 games mostly beside Artemi Panarin and Cam Atkinson. Columbus has to keep the goals coming and exploit the Capitals’ tense goaltending situation. In the middle of it, will be Dubois. Only time will tell if he can weather the storm.
Though the Capitals outshine Columbus when it comes to offensive star power, the Jackets are coming in hot, having ranked as the league’s highest-scoring club over the past month. If they can exploit the Caps’ goaltending issues, they’ll have a chance to knock off the Metropolitan Division champs.
In the final analysis, however, Washington’s playoff prowess and edge on special teams will just be too much for the Blue Jackets to overcome. The Capitals’ seventh-ranked power play has the potential to overwhelm the Blue Jackets’ 26th-ranked penalty kill. Although the Jackets will make a gallant effort, the Capitals should advance on the determined performance of their star, Alex Ovechkin.
Capitals win the series in five games.
–Mike D’Abate is a Managing Editor and National Columnist for Full Press Coverage Sports Media. He covers the NFL and NHL. Follow him on Twitter @mdabateFPC