For the third straight year, the Washington Capitals and the Pittsburgh Penguins will face off against each other in the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs. Pittsburgh defeated the Caps the previous two years. The Caps finished first in the Metropolitan division with 105 points, and the Penguins finished second in the division with 100 points.
The first-round of the playoffs started out rough for the Caps as they found themselves in a hole being down 2-0 to the Columbus Blue Jackets. But thanks to great defensive work and their goal scoring, they won four straight to take the series and advance to the second round. Braden Holtby was interstellar after replacing Philipp Grubauer in the third period of game two against the Blue Jackets. He played a major role in the Caps monster comeback allowing only 10 goals on 147 shots and posting a .932 save percentage.
The Penguins also found themselves victorious in a six-game series win over the rival, Philadelphia Flyers. Pittsburgh’s goaltender, Matt Murray, was instrumental in their Stanley Cup Finals run in last year’s playoff and continues to dominate the crease in the 2018 playoffs. Murray, who is only 23 years old and has two Stanley Cups, posted a .911 save percentage in the first round against the Flyers.
For the Penguins, their offense during the first round was electrifying. They have so many offensive weapons that produce goals, but if the Capitals want to get out of their second-round drought then they need to shut down Sidney Crosby and Jake Guentzel.
Both Crosby and Guentzel are tied for the most points in the playoffs so far with 13. Each player has six goals and seven assists each. This dynamic duo really showed what they’re capable of in the first-round against the Flyers as Crosby got a hat trick in game one, and Guentzel scored four goals in game six to seal the deal against Philly. Shutting down these elite goal scorers is a must if Washington wants to advance to the Eastern Conference finals.
The Capitals, on the other hand, have no shortage of offensive threats as they have four players in the top ten of points scored so far in the playoffs. Defenseman John Carlson only has one goal so far this postseason but has an astonishing eight assists. Alex Ovechkin, the Caps all-time leader in points in the playoffs, leads the team this postseason with five goals. Evgeny Kuznetsov falls in right behind Ovechkin with four goals.
Washington has a legitimate chance of advancing if they keep the same offensive tempo they had in the final four games of the first-round. Carlson needs to maintain his work on both the offensive and defensive sides of the zone, especially against snipers like Crosby and Guentzel. Ovechkin and Kuznetsov can’t do it all on their own so other offensive weapons such as T.J. Oshie and Nicklas Backstrom, really need to start contributing more in the offensive zone if they finally want to escape the Penguins.
Game one is set for this Thursday, April 26th in Washington. Puck drop is at 7 p.m. ET.
Written by: Daniel Brackman
Edited by: Matthew Peterson