The second round of the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs is very nearly upon us and that means the Washington Capitals will face off against the Pittsburgh Penguins. Again.
Game One of this series will take place on Thursday.
This is the third consecutive time these two clubs have met in the post-season and the fourth time they’ve tangled in the playoffs since 2009. Pittsburgh has largely held the advantage, defeating the Capitals on its way to each of its five Stanley Cups.
Washington, meanwhile, has not advanced beyond the second round of the playoffs since 1998, when it reached the Stanley Cup Final against the Detroit Red Wings.
This time, the Capitals took the Metropolitan Division crown and put on an impressive display against the Columbus Blue Jackets in the first round of the playoffs. They fell behind 2-0, but Alex Ovechkin and Co. turned things on a dime and took over. It’s that sort of momentum-shifting dynamism that the Penguins have to watch out for.
But Pittsburgh was the league’s most offensive team in the first round. And their attack is all the more balanced with the addition of Derick Brassard, giving the Penguins three lines they can roll in any and all game situations. They’ll play the matchup game against Washington and they’ll come out on top in that department, just like they did against Philadelphia in the opening stanza.
Sidney Crosby had 13 points in the first round, surpassing Mario Lemieux as the franchise’s all-time leading scorer in the playoffs with 177 points. He’ll look to build on that against the Capitals. In 19 post-season games against Washington, Crosby has 22 points.
Ovechkin is the Capitals’ all-time leading playoff scorer and he has 26 points in 20 games against the Penguins in post-season action. He had eight points in six games against Columbus in the first round this season and his two goals against the Blue Jackets in Game Six proved his mettle all over again.
Of course, the particulars are well-known to hockey fans and the Capitals and Penguins know what they’re getting into. There are few secrets between them and that familiarity can produce interesting results, which is where goaltending comes in.
Matt Murray earned two shutouts in the opening round against the Flyers, but the Penguins netminder wasn’t exactly consistent. He was almost yanked in Game Six and allowed more than three goals against in two first round contests. There have been some concerns about injuries, so the situation in Pittsburgh’s crease may yield some difficulty.
Washington’s Braden Holtby is coming off one of the worst seasons of his career and redemption is possible. He turned things around in the playoffs, posting a .932 save percentage thus far, and he’ll have a lot to prove against the Penguins. Philipp Grubauer started two games against Columbus.
We know that this series will feature a lot of goals on the board, but things can change in an instant. The Penguins will have to drive the action down the middle and gain entries to the Washington zone using their centre depth. They were able to use their balance to force the Flyers into taking penalties. If they can do the same against Washington, they’ll exploit the Capitals’ weaknesses and pick up the series win.