At the start of the playoffs the Washington Capitals were looking like they were in danger of falling back into their old habits. Washington has a history of performing well in the regular season only to find disappointment in the playoffs, suffering early exits in the last three postseasons and not even making it to the conference finals.
Washington’s six-game series against the Philadelphia Flyers was way closer than it reasonably should have been. The Caps began with a commanding lead in the series against the Flyers, taking a three-game edge, and many expected them to sweep Philadelphia. But the Capitals dropped the next two games against Philly, making some wonder if the team was cruising for another premature playoff loss. Thankfully, the Capitals managed to overcome their old habits with a game six win, but now they’ll face an even tougher challenge against the Pittsburgh Penguins.
On the other end Pittsburgh made quick work of the New York Rangers, dispatching them in a five-game series. Notably the team managed to do all of this without starting goalkeeper Marc-Andre Fleury. But forced to put 21-year-old rookie Matt Murray between the sticks, they saw the kid step up, and if he was feeling any first postseason jitters he definitely didn’t show it. This report notes that in his first two postseason starts Murray stopped 47 of 48 shots in a series where he managed to show up legendary goalkeeper Henrik Lundqvist. He’ll face tougher competition against the likes of Alex Ovechkin and T.J. Oshie of the Caps, but if he can keep playing like this anything could happen.
It was pointed out by one post that this is the first time the Penguins and Capitals will see each other in the playoffs since 2009, and we expect the sparks to fly when these two sides face off. The prospect of a head-to-head between Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin is tantalizing to say the least and we fully expect this series to go a minimum of six games and wouldn’t be surprise to see a seventh.
Washington and Pittsburgh finished the 2016 season at first and second overall in the Eastern Conference respectively, making this a highly anticipated match-up that we can hardly believe is taking place this early in the playoffs. The two teams are perhaps some of the most lethal in the league.
According to this article Pittsburgh was averaging 3.38 goals per game as of a few years ago while conceding 2.48. While the team isn’t quite the same offensive powerhouse this year, the Penguins are still scoring 2.9 goals per game, which is good enough for third in the league while the defense has improved to an even 2.4 on goals against (placing them sixth in the NHL). Meanwhile they’ll have to go against the second best offensive team in the league in the Washington Capitals, who are putting up a solid 3 goals per game and also boast the number two defense, allowing only 2.3 goals against.
Given the offensive prowess of both squads we expect every match to be closely contested and this is sure to be one of the marquee match-ups of this year’s playoffs. While Pittsburgh has been playing great hockey lately they’ll definitely have a tough time against Oshie and Ovechkin if they can’t get Fleury back in goal. This very well could be Washington’s year to finally raise the cup, and we think they could sew this one up in a hard-fought six games.