Every good story has a trilogy, and that is just the case in this Metropolitan battle which promotes one of hockey’s biggest rivalries for the third straight year: Penguins versus Capitals.
So We Meet Again
This will be the 10th meeting between the Capitals and Penguins in the playoffs. The Penguins have won nine times, the Capitals, only once. The last two years, the Penguins have won this series. In 2016 Nick Bonino was the hero for the Penguins as he put home an overtime goal in game six to advance to the conference finals. Last year, Patric Hornqvist scored twice to lead the Penguins past the Capitals in Washington 2-0 in game seven.
The most recent meeting before those came in 2009 when two young superstars, Sidney Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin, duked it out in an epic seven-game series which featured both heroes scoring hat-tricks in the same game.
Who’s Got the Edge?
The previous three times these two teams met and the Penguins advanced, they went on to win the Cup. In addition, of course, the Penguins come into the series having won back-to-back Stanley Cups and nine-straight playoff series. Something that will certainly be in the back of the minds of Capitals players. However, this time around, things are a bit different.
The Penguins don’t boast a top defensive unit as they have in years past. They have swapped guys like Nick Bonino in favor of Derrick Brassard, which hasn’t quite been the positive they expected. In the regular season, they ranked 20th out of 31 teams defensively, allowing 250 goals in 82 games. In round one against the Flyers, Matt Murray and the Penguins surrendered 15 goals. All of which came in four of the six total games in the series. This time around, Marc-Andre Fleury isn’t available to spell Murray if things get a bit out of hand. On top of all that, they now must go up against the NHL’s leading goal scorer, Alex Ovechkin.
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Despite finishing atop the Metropolitan Division, the Capitals have flown a bit under the radar in comparison to previous seasons. Part of that is the attention given to the two-time defending champions in the very same division. In addition, the battle in the Atlantic division between the Bruins and Lightning made the Capitals a bit of an afterthought as they were not in contention for the top spot in the East. After dropping the first two games to Columbus, it looked like much of the same from the playoff version of the Capitals.
Part of the reason for the turnaround in the playoffs for the Capitals is the play of Braden Holtby. During the regular season, Holtby had a save percentage of .907 and a 2.99 GAA. Hardly anything to get excited about. However, during the first six games of the playoffs, Holtby has upped his save percentage to .932 and dropped his goals against average to 1.92. Another positive for the Capitals and Holtby is that the Penguins will be without Carl Hagelin and Evgeni Malkin for at least one game, maybe more. Of course, Sidney Crosby and Phil Kessel are still on the team. However, the injuries weaken the Penguins up the middle, one of their ultimate advantages against every team.
Prediction: Capitals in 6
They’ve won four straight. Their goalie is hot and Ovechkin has been on fire. On top of it all, the Penguins come in with two injured stars (Malkin and Hagelin). However, there is only one way the Capitals win this series: They split home and away games with the Penguins; Win game five at home; Win game six in Pittsburgh.
If they don’t split home and away games, this series goes to the Penguins. The longer this series goes, despite a potential game seven being in D.C., the Penguins have the advantage. They’ll likely gain Malkin and Hagelin back so the Capitals must capitalize on their absence. It’s a series to keep an eye on, and it all gets going tonight at 7:00 pm on NBC Sports.
— Full Press NHL (@FPC_NHL) April 26, 2018