For the third year in a row the Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins will face off in the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals. As this seems to be a playoff tradition, many are looking forward to another Sidney Crosby, Alex Ovechkin filled playoff series. The Penguins have been victorious the last two meetings but is this year different? No, but that doesn’t mean the Capitals should be counted out.
In 2016, 2017 and now 2018, the Capitals have won the Metropolitan Division and the Penguins have finished one spot behind them. Also, for the third year, these two teams will meet in the playoffs and one side has certainly had a better experience than the other.
Dating back to 1991, in the five years that the Penguins have won the Stanley Cup (’91, ’92, ’09, ’16, ’17), they have defeated the Capitals on their way to lifting Lord Stanley’s Cup. In these five years, the Capitals are 12-20 against Pittsburgh including three of these series going to seven games in 1992, 2009 and 2017.
On the other hand, the Capitals have not advanced to the conference finals since 1998 where they eventually moved on to the Stanley Cup Final only to be swept by the Detroit Red Wings. Because of Washington’s playoff failures and Pittsburgh’s playoff successes, the Penguins have certainly been given more of the spotlight. However, this is a new year and anything can happen in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
The Capitals have another chance to exercise their demons and finally advance to the conference finals for the first time in 20 years. How are they going to get the job done? Their star players have to play like star players.
Alex Ovechkin, T.J Oshie, Evgeny Kusnetsov, Nicklas Backstrom, John Carlson and Braden Holtby have to step up in order to defeat a team that hasn’t lost a playoff series since April, 2015. The Capitals have plenty of star power and if those players can get going at the same time, there is a good possibility they could advance.
The Capitals showed a great deal of heart coming back from two overtime playoff losses at home to win four straight games and advance to the next round. Their opponent, the Columbus Blue Jackets, was not an easy team to beat and had plenty of firepower of their own. When the Capitals went down 0-2, no one really gave them much of a chance.
In that six-game series against Columbus, Ovechkin had five goals and eight points which led all Capitals players as well as Blue Jackets players. Backstrom, Oshie, and Kuznetsov all combined for 20 points and were instrumental in the four straight wins it took for the Capitals to finish this series in six games. Nicklas Backstrom potted the overtime game winner in game five which gave the Capitals the 3-2 series lead headed back to Columbus.
However, now they face a different opponent with a different kind of game. A kind of game that has won them 32 playoff games in the last two years. Led by Sidney Crosby, this team is a different beast that Washington is unfortunately all too familiar with.
Although the Penguins are missing key pieces like Bonino and Kunitz (who scored the conference final winning game seven overtime goal last postseason), this team is still extremely dangerous. Washington is going to have to try to contain them to the best of their ability.
Past the Crosby’s, Malkin’s, Kessel’s and Murray’s, there is a young superstar in Jake Guentzel who lit it up against the Philadelphia Flyers in a series clinching game six. He scored four goals in an 8-5 win that won them the series 4-2 and found himself with 13 points and a plus minus of plus 10 at the end of the six games.
Although Malkin and Kessel only have three and one goals respectively, they are bound to break out at some point and this new matchup that they have had success against in the past may be just the time to do it.
Murray, per usual, is playing terrific hockey and doesn’t show any signs of slowing down as I and many others are sure he would love to win a third Stanley Cup before his 25th birthday. With a .911 save percentage against the Flyers in round one and a career .926 save percentage, the Capitals goal scorers are going to have their work cut out for them.
But you already knew all of this information. Are stats completely irrelevant when it comes to these rivalry matchups especially one of this caliber or are stats the most important thing to regard in this series?
Who knows. It seems like year after year the Capitals are the overall better team yet year after year they choke. Something that hasn’t been clicking in the past may click this year. Or it may not. Either way, this series is going to be a lot of fun and maybe third time’s the charm when it comes to Washington finally prevailing over their black and yellow foes from Pennsylvania.