“We’re ready. We’re excited. We can’t wait to get going. We’ve worked hard for it. We’ve worked all year and all summer to get back into this position, and now we’re here,” said Washington Capitals’ winger Marcus Johansson after scoring the series-clinching goal at Air Canada Centre on Sunday. Johansson scored both goals as Washington wrapped up a 4-2 series win against Toronto Maple Leafs, securing a second round meeting with the reigning Stanley Cup Champion Pittsburgh Penguins.
The Caps enter the series hoping to avenge their defeat of last season, where Pittsburgh won the second round meeting in six games on their way to the championship. Capitals head coach, Barry Trotz, believes that the Toronto series has better prepared his players for the upcoming challenge. Five of the games in the series went to overtime and all six were decided by a single goal. Speaking about the series, Trotz said; “That hardened us, too. We’ve handled that a lot better this year versus last year. That’s why I like where our team is going in terms of the growth and finding the next level of maturity.”
The major focus of the series, no doubt, will be Ovechkin v Crosby and who will have the better series, here we take a look at that and other potential series-deciding factors.
Ovie v Sid
Two of the league’s brightest stars go head to head in the playoffs once again. In the previous two meetings, Ovie may have won the battle – but Sid won the war so to speak.
They first met in Round Two of 2009 and in that series both players had a hat-trick in Game Two, a 4-3 win for the Capitals. Ovechkin finished the series with 14 points (8G, 6A) and a plus-five rating with 41 shots. Crosby, who’s team would go on to claim a 4-3 series victory, had 13 points (8G, 4A), a plus-four rating and 32 shots.
Their second meeting came last year, again in the second round, and again it was Crosby and the Penguins who would claim victory – this time in six games. By their lofty standards, both players had a quiet series. Ovechkin had had two goals and five assists, whilst Crosby had just two assists and ended the series with a minus-three rating with 14 shots on goal.
Overall, the pair has faced off 13 times in post-season hockey, Ovie leads the points battle 21-15. The Capitals will no doubt be hoping that this time, it’s Ovechkin who claims the series victory, especially given that the winner of this series will be much fancied to go on and lift the Stanley Cup.
More than Two Individuals
This series is much more than just about the respective captains. Both teams had high-scoring seasons, with five players each hitting at least 20 goals. Players like TJ Oshie, Nicklas Backstrom, Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel will no doubt have a big say in who wins this series. It’s tough to split the teams here, it will perhaps be more about which team can better restrict their opponent’s offense.
Washington Capitals 20-goal Scorers
Alex Ovechkin – 33
TJ Oshie – 33
Marcus Johansson – 24
Justin Williams – 24
Nicklas Backstrom – 23
Pittsburgh Penguins 20-goal Scorers
Sidney Crosby – 44
Evgeni Malkin – 33
Phil Kessel – 23
Conor Sheary – 23
Patric Hornqvist – 21
Holtby v Fleury
No playoff series preview would be complete without a look at the respective goalies for each team. With Matt Murray not yet ready to return, it will be Marc-Andre Fleury between the pipes for the Penguins and Vezina Trophy finalist, Braden Holtby for the Capitals. Both goalies put in solid performances during Round 1, but Washington will feel that this is where their biggest advantage lies. Holtby was outplayed by Matt Murray at this stage last year, but with another good season behind him, he’ll no doubt be confident that he can improve this time around.
So far, Holtby has faced 213 shots, stopping 197 of them for a 2.36GAA and .925Sv%. Fleury has stopped 181 of the 194 shots he’s faced. That gives him 2.52GAA and a .933Sv%.
Evgeni Malkin had has 11 points so far this postseason (2G 9A)
Karl Alzner may miss Game 1. Alzner missed the final four games of the first round. Although skating again, Game 1 may come too soon for him.
Washington in seven.
Tough to separate these two. This will be a long, grueling series. Expect lots of OT with the Caps sneaking it in a Game 7.
Game 1: Penguins at Capitals. Thursday, April 27. 7:30 p.m.
Game 2: Penguins at Capitals. Saturday, April 29. 8:00 p.m.
Game 3: Capitals at Penguins. Monday, May 1. 7:30 p.m.
Game 4: Capitals at Penguins. Wednesday, May 3. 7:30 p.m.
Game 5 (If Necessary): Penguins at Capitals. Saturday, May 6. Time TBD
Game 6 (If Necessary): Capitals at Penguins. Monday, May 8. Time TBD
Game 7 (If Necessary): Penguins at Capitals. Wednesday, May 10. Time TBD