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Stanley Cup Playoffs Preview: Pittsburgh Penguins vs Washington Capitals

Stanley Cup Playoffs Preview: Pittsburgh Penguins vs Washington Capitals

The long and grueling journey to raise Lord Stanley’s Cup continues, as the Pittsburgh Penguins, after dispatching the Philadelphia Flyers in the 1st Round in six games, face the Washington Capitals in the 2nd Round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs!


The Penguins Prepare to Battle Ovechkin and the Capitals Once Again

Three things seem occur quite often every mid-Spring in Pittsburgh: Unpredictable weather, pothole filled roads, and… playing the Washington Capitals in the playoffs.

For the 3rd straight season the Penguins will face their division rivals for the right to advance to the Eastern Conference Finals. This will be the 4th time it will be superstars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin vs Alex Ovechkin. The Penguins have ended the Capitals season nine out the ten meetings they have played.

Though history certainly leans in the Penguins favor, the players know their actions are the only factors that truly count on the ice.

“It’s a new year,” defenseman Kris Letang said. “The series is going to play out differently. The games are going to be won differently. You don’t know how it’s going to go. The only thing I know is it’s a good rivalry. Two really good teams, two teams that have a lot of punch offensively. It’s going to be fun to be a part of it, a lot of emotion. It’s going to be cool.”

Only Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Letang remain from the 2009 team that defeated Washington.

Part IV will be just as nasty as the previous three encounters were.

“Any time you get further in the playoffs, and you play a team multiple times in the playoffs, things get a lot more intense and a little more heated,” Penguins forward Bryan Rust said. “And it makes the rivalry that much more heated, makes it that much more fun.”

Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan knows his team is in for a dogfight come Thursday night in Washington, D.C..

“They’re a really good team,” said Sullivan. “They’ve got a lot of balance. They’re getting scoring throughout their lineup. They’ve got a solid defense corps. They’ve got a real good goalie. They’re one of the top teams in the league. It’s going to take our very best to beat them.”

With four games against each other in the regular season, and playoff meetings in what seems like every year, the two teams are well versed in each others strengths and weaknesses. In the playoffs, sometimes the smallest of details can factor into advancing into the next round.

“I think you make subtle adjustments,” Crosby said. “You have to be aware of your opponent, their strengths. I think that ultimately you trust your game, try to play your own game, but you’re always aware of who you’re playing and what they do.”

Even though the Capitals lost a few key players from last year’s team, they still managed to capture the Metropolitan Division crown yet again.

“I think it’s still the same old dangerous team,” Letang said. “Don’t get me wrong, those series went the distance, they went to overtime. It was a tough match-up, could’ve gone either way. I think they cause the same problems to our team. They’re really good on the power play, they have a lot of skill, they make a lot of plays. It’s the same team.”

If the Capitals are ever going to find a way to make their way past the Penguins, they will have to find a way to contain Crosby.

“He’s scoring goals close to the net, so that tells me that he’s going there,” Caps defenseman Matt Niskanen said. “He can control the game from the perimeter because his vision is so good and he’s such a good passer. When he becomes really dangerous is when he goes to the net as well. Really, the last couple seasons, he’s been the best player because he’s producing by going to the net. Heck of a challenge for our team.”

Crosby is already one of the greatest players in NHL history. He always seems to take it up another notch when the playoffs arrive. Then add in playing one of Pittsburgh’s rivals to boot?

Good luck.

Crosby, though he won’t admit it, seems to relish sticking it to his most hated rivals, especially in the postseason.

“When I think back to playing against Columbus and other teams in the playoffs, they were pretty intense and emotional too and had their points when they got ugly at different points,” Crosby said. “It’s hard to compare, but when it comes down to it, you obviously have to find that balance and find that line of being engaged and intense but also being disciplined.”

Many opposing team’s fans routinely taunt Crosby, but none as vile as the ones in Philadelphia and Washington. Still, what keeps Sid great is the ability to play like a machine, no matter which color jersey the other team has on the ice, or the chants from the crowd.

“I think everything you look at, even last series against Philadelphia, it’s just about winning,” Pittsburgh defenseman Olli Maatta said. “It’s about nothing else. I think he’s the first guy to say that. I don’t think he bothers himself with anything else. He’s focusing on the hockey and focusing on winning games and doing whatever it takes.”

On the flip-side, for Pittsburgh to continue their winning ways vs the Capitals, they will have to limit the chances Ovechkin gets.

“When you go out there on him, you just try to stay in line with his stick,” Penguin center Riley Sheahan said of Ovechkin. “You just hope when you block it, it gets you in a good part of the equipment.”

Penguins goalie Matt Murray knows he’ll have to be in good position, especially when the Caps are on the Power Play, to keep Ovechkin off the score sheet.

“I would say (Ovechkin’s shot is) a little different,” goalie Matt Murray said. “He just rips it so hard. Obviously, that makes it difficult. He’s a pretty unique player in that regard.”

Both Malkin and Carl Hagelin will be out for the Penguins in Game 1. Malkin was skating with the team on Thursday morning and the team is hopeful he’ll be ready to play in Game 2 come Sunday. afternoon.

“He’s a difference maker and not an easy guy to replace,” Sullivan said of Malkin. “But as we’ve said all along we have a next-man-up attitude and it’s going to provide opportunity for other guys to step up and try to help us win.”

Jake Guentzel, who scored six playoff goals, four of which coming in the series clinching victory over the Flyers, is ready to be that guy. He is tied with Crosby and Boston’s David Pastrnak for the NHL scoring lead with 13 points.

“I feel good,” Guentzel said. “Obviously, you’ve got to turn the page. It’s a new series and a new team you’re playing against, so we’re taking it game by game and you go from there.”

Coach Sullivan knows what type of asset he has in Guentzel.

“Jake is such a cerebral player,” Sullivan said. “His greatest asset is probably his hockey sense and his ability to read plays and see the ice and find the soft areas and support the puck. He’s just really good at that. Regardless of where we use him, he has the ability to make those adjustments.”

 

Penguins Keys To Victory

  • Own the Puck! It’s quite simple, really… if the Capitals don’t have the puck, they can’t score. Puck possession was a big reason the Penguins have sent the Capitals packing the last two years.
  • Limit Ovechkin! Easier said than done, but limiting Ovechkin from getting open shots goes a long way in aiding Matt Murray.
  • Ignore Post-Whistle Scrums! As dangerous as the Penguins Power Play is, the Capitals have been dominant in the postseason, and their production on the PP vs Columbus was a big reason they came back to defeat the Blue Jackets. Play hockey and limit stupid penalties. The Capitals feed off of this.

Team Comparison

Forwards

The Penguins boasted three players that finished in the Top 10 in league scoring, that being Malkin, Phil Kessel, and Crosby. Only the Lightning accomplished that feat since 2003-04, and they went on to win the Cup. The talent and depth doesn’t stop with the top three. Add in Patric Hornqvist, whose presence in front of the net drives opposing teams crazy, Derick Brassard who has been one of the best playoff performers the past five years, and sniper Jake Guentzel, and you have a team that has three lethal lines that keeps coming after you in waves. Bryan Rust and Conor Sheary have proven their worth in lighting the lamp come playoff time as well. The 4th line isn’t anything to sneeze at either. Riley Sheahan is on the 4th line and has 11 goals and 32 points.

The Capitals are top heavy with Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Evgeny Kuznetsov, and T.J. Oshie. After those four, they are pretty average depth-wise. Devante Smith-Pelly and Lars Eller scored twice apiece in the 1st round. Tom Wilson has talent, but spends much of his time focusing on hits rather than contributing on the score sheet.

“Every year it comes down to goals from the bottom-six guys,” Smith-Pelly said. “The big guys are the big guys. They’re going to do their thing. They’re going to get their points, their goals, stuff like that. If we chip in a little bit, it’s going to go a long way.”

The Blue Jackets outscored Washington 13-12 during five-on-five play in the series. Washington’s power play went 9 for 27 and scored at least once in every game.

Advantage: Penguins The Penguins depth is 2nd to none.

Defenseman

Kris Letang struggled early this season, but has turned it on in the last quarter of the season. Letang, along with Brian Dumoulin, Olli Maatta  and Justin Schultz form a very good Top Four at defense for Pittsburgh. Jamie Oleksiak has been a great addition since GM Jim Rutherford acquired him earlier this season.

Letang and Dumoulin were great in the series vs the Flyers, combining for two goals, 11 assists, and being plus 12.

Matt Hunwick and Chad Ruhwedel have spent time flipping as the teams 6th and 7th best defenseman. For the start of this series, Ruhwedel looks to get the nod.

John Carlson leads the Capitals in playoff scoring with nine points. Dmitry Orlov and Brooks Orpik have chipped in three points apiece as well. Matt Niskanen, who will be paired with Orlov, will be tasked with shutting down Crosby’s line.

Advantage: Penguins Letang’s elevated play along Dumoulin playing at the top of his game gives the Penguins a huge advantage defensively.

 

Goaltending

Matt Murray’s biggest question coming into the playoffs was staying healthy. People actually questioned Murray’s abilities despite Muzz having: 2 Stanley Cup Rings, a playoff record of 22-9, a playoff goals-against average of 1.95 and save percentage of .928, and four shutouts in the post-season, including each of the last two games of the 2017 Stanley Cup Final.

For the Capitals to finally defeat the Penguins, Braden Holtby will have to be at the top of his game. He, like many goalies the Penguins have faced over the years, have been blistered by the high scoring Penguins offense.

Holtby stopped 137 of 147 shots (.932 save percentage, 1.92 goals-against average) against Columbus.

“He’s a top goalie in the league,” Ovechkin said after Holtby beat Columbus for the fourth straight time Monday night.

Advantage: Even

 

Special Teams

Power Play:

  • Penguins Rank #1 at 26.2% | Playoffs: #8 at 20%
  • Capitals Rank #7 at 22.5% | Playoffs: #1 at 33.3%

 

Penalty Kill:

  • Penguins Rank #17 at 80% | Playoffs: #3 at 95.5%
  • Capitals Rank #15 at 80.3% | Playoffs: #7 at 83.3%

 

Prediction

It doesn’t get any better than this. If you are a fan of hockey, then what more can you ask for with a series featuring Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Phil Kessel, Kris Letang, Alexander Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, and John Carlson? It will be fast paced, action packed, and hard hitting. In the end, the Penguins depth, even with Malkin missing the 1st game, will be too much for the Capitals to contain. The biggest game of the series for Washington is undoubtedly Game 1. If they lose the opener, at home, with the Penguins missing one of their best players, all of the old demons and bad thoughts will cling to their necks like a deer tick till the puck drops in Game 2 on Sunday afternoon. With Malkin and Hagelin out, the Penguins will be thrilled to head home to PPG Paints Arena with a split.

Penguins in 6


Series Information

Eastern Conference 2nd Round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs

#2 Pittsburgh Penguins (47-29-6 | 100 Points) vs #1 Washington Capitals (49-26-7 | 105 Points)

Game 1: Pittsburgh Penguins at Washington Capitals

Date: Thursday, April 26th

Venue: Capital One Arena, Washington, D.C.

Game Time: 7:10 pm

TV:  NBCSN, CBC, Sportsnet, TVA Sports   Radio: 105.9 The X (Pittsburgh) / NBC Sports Radio and SiriusXM Radio

 

Game 2: Pittsburgh Penguins at Washington Capitals

Date: Sunday, April 29th

Venue: Capital One Arena, Washington, D.C.

Game Time: 3:10 p.m.

TV: NBC, CBC, TVA Sports   Radio: 105.9 The X (Pittsburgh) / NBC Sports Radio and SiriusXM Radio

 

Game 3: Pittsburgh Penguins vs Washington Capitals

Date: Tuesday, May 1st

Venue: PPG Paints Arena, Pittsburgh, PA.

Game Time: 7:40 p.m.

TV: NBCSN, Sportsnet, TVA Sports 2   Radio: 105.9 The X (Pittsburgh) / NBC Sports Radio and SiriusXM Radio

 

Game 4: Pittsburgh Penguins vs Washington Capitals

Date: Thursday, May 3rd

Venue: PPG Paints Arena, Pittsburgh, PA.

Game Time: 7:10 p.m.

TV: NBCSN, Sportsnet, TVA Sports   Radio: 105.9 The X (Pittsburgh) / NBC Sports Radio and SiriusXM Radio

 

Game 5: Pittsburgh Penguins at Washington Capitals*

Date: Saturday, May 5th

Venue: Capital One Arena, Washington, D.C.

Game Time: TBA

TV: NBC, Sportsnet, TVA Sports   Radio: 105.9 The X (Pittsburgh) / NBC Sports Radio and SiriusXM Radio

 

Game 6: Pittsburgh Penguins vs Washington Capitals*

Date: Monday, May 7th

Venue: PPG Paints Arena, Pittsburgh, PA.

Game Time: TBA

TV: NBCSN and TVA Sports   Radio: 105.9 The X (Pittsburgh) / NBC Sports Radio and SiriusXM Radio

 

Game 7: Pittsburgh Penguins at Washington Capitals*

Date: Wednesday, May 9th

Venue: Capital One Arena, Washington, D.C.

Game Time: TBA

TV: NBCSN and TVA Sports   Radio: 105.9 The X (Pittsburgh) / NBC Sports Radio and SiriusXM Radio

*If Necessary

 


A look at the Pittsburgh Penguins!

  • Head Coach: Mike Sullivan (3rd Season with Penguins)
  • Overall Regular Season Record: 47-29-6 | 100 points / 2nd in Metropolitan Division.
  • Stanley Cup Champions: 1991, 1992, 2009, 2016, 2017
  • 2017-18 Pittsburgh Penguins Roster
  • 1st Round Result: Defeated Philadelphia Flyers in six games.

 

Scouting the Penguins

Projected Line-Up (if all healthy)

Forwards

  • 1st Line: Jake Guentzel – Sidney Crosby – Bryan Rust
  • 2nd Line: Carl Hagelin – Evgeni Malkin – Patric Hornqvist
  • 3rd Line: Conor Sheary – Derick Brassard  – Phil Kessel
  • 4th Line: Zach Aston-Reese – Riley Sheahan – Tom Kuhnhackl

(With Geno Malkin out)

  • 1st Line: Jake Guentzel – Sidney Crosby – Patric Hornqvist
  • 2nd Line:  Dominik Simon – Riley Sheahan – Phil Kessel
  • 3rd Line:  Conor Sheary – Derick Brassard – Bryan Rust
  • 4th Line:  Zach Aston-Reese – Carter Rowney – Tom Kuhnhackl

Defense

  • 1st Pairing: Brian Dumoulin – Kris Letang
  • 2nd Pairing: Olli Maatta – Justin Schultz
  • 3rd Pairing: Jamie Oleksiak – Chad Ruhwedel

Scratched: Matt Hunwick

Goalies

  • Starter: Matt Murray
  • Back-up: Casey DeSmith

Regular Season Stats

 

 

A look at the Washington Capitals!

  • Head Coach: Barry Trotz (4th Season with Capitals)
  • Overall Regular Season Record: 49-26-7 | 105 Points / 1st in Metropolitan Division.
  • Stanley Cup Champions: N/A
  • 2017-18 Washington Capitals Roster
  • 1st Round Result: Defeated Columbus Blue Jackets in six games.

 

Scouting the Capitals

Projected Line-Up (if all healthy)

Forwards

  • 1st Line: Alex Ovechkin — Evgeny Kuznetsov — Tom Wilson
  • 2nd Line:  Chandler Stephenson – Nicklas Backstrom – T.J. Oshie
  • 3rd Line:  Brett Connolly – Lars Eller – Devante Smith-Pelly
  • 4th Line:  Jakub Vrana – Jay Beagle – Alex Chiasson

Defense

  • 1st Pairing:  Dmitry Orlov – Matt Niskanen
  • 2nd Pairing:  Michal Kempny – John Carlson
  • 3rd Pairing:  Brooks Orpik – Christian Djoos

Goalies

  • Starter: Braden Holtby
  • Back-up: Philipp Grubauer

Scratches:  Jakub Jerabek, Travis Boyd , Madison Bowey, Shane Gersich, Pheonix Copley, Nathan Walker

Regular Season Stats

 


Penguins-Capitals Playoff History

  • Playoff Series History: Penguins lead 9-1. The Penguins defeated the Capitals in 1991, 1992, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2009, 2016, and 2017. Capitals won in 1994.
  • The Penguins have won the Stanley Cup 5 times. (1991, 1992, 2009, 2016, 2017)
  • The Capitals have never won the Stanley Cup.

 

Series Notes

  • The Penguins and Capitals played to an even 2-2 split during the regualr season.
  • Braden Holtby has been on fire after replacing Philipp Grubauer in Game 2 against Columbus. He stopped 137 of 147 shots (.932 save percentage, 1.92 goals-against average).
  • The Penguins will continue a decade-long tradition, hosting the big screen outside PPG Paints Arena for home playoff games. Fans can watch games from the corner of Fifth Avenue and Washington Place.

NHL Playoff Bracket

Series Predictions

Western Conference

Winnipeg over Nashville in 7

San Jose over Vegas in 6

 

 

Eastern Conference

Tampa Bay over Boston in 7

Pittsburgh over Washington in 6

 

1st Round: 6-2

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Mike DrakulichYour source for Pittsburgh sports!
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