Washington Capitals vs. Pittsburgh Penguins

Alex Ovechkin chases down the puck with the Penguins' Sidney Crosby on his tail on March 8. (Jonathan Newton – The Washington Post)

Forwards

With Evgeni Malkin, Alex Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby — the NHL’s first, second and third leading scorers — offense won’t be in short supply. Pittsburgh’s Malkin and Crosby have picked up where they left off in the regular season with nine and eight points, respectively, while Ovechkin (seven points) is still waiting to break out. The key for the Capitals will be the continued contributions of Alexander Semin (five goals) and Nicklas Backstrom (seven assists), as well as scoring from secondary sources such as Viktor Kozlov and Brooks Laich and unexpected ones such as Matt Bradley, who tallied twice in Washington’s 4-0 Game 5 win over the Rangers. The Penguins, who reached the finals last season, have three lines capable of scoring and an edge in experience and grit thanks to deadline additions Bill Guerin and Chris Kunitz.

Defense

Washington’s Mike Green and Pittsburgh’s Sergei Gonchar can dazzle fans with spectacular end-to-end rushes and power-play potency. Green, a first-time Norris Trophy nominee after leading all defensemen in the regular season with 31 goals and 73 points, rebounded from a slow start in the first round amid speculation that he was playing with an injury or illness. The outcome of this series, however, will be determined by each team’s ability to shut down the other’s top forwards. Aided by the late-season return of veteran Brian Pothier, the Capitals’ solid-but-unspectacular blueline limited the offensively-challenged Rangers to an average of 1.57 goals per game, the team’s best seven-game stretch of the season, and a paltry 23.7 shots per contest. While neither team’s unit has a clear advantage in talent, the Penguins hold a decisive advantage in experience: a combined 320 playoff games to the Capitals’ 119.

Goaltending

The biggest question facing the Capitals at the start of the playoffs was answered after one game, when Coach Bruce Boudreau made the gutsy decision to switch from struggling veteran Jose Theodore to untested rookie Simeon Varlamov, who rallied his team and now ranks near the top of the league in most statistical categories. But those numbers came against a Rangers attack that needed a GPS unit to find the net; Varlamov has never faced the Penguins. At the opposite end of the ice will be Marc-Andre Fleury, who possesses the ability to steal a series with his acrobatic saves. But Fleury, the first overall pick in 2003, struggled against the Capitals during the regular season, posting an uncharacteristically pedestrian 4.73 goals against average and .862 save percentage.

Prediction

Capitals in seven games.

-- Tarik El-Bashir

 

ABOUT THE CAPITALS

Regular Season Record:
50-24-8 (108 points)

Finish: Southeast Division champions,
No. 2 seed in Eastern Conference

Playoffs Round 1:
Down 1-3 in series, rallied to beat
NY Rangers in seven

Stats  |   Roster  |   Schedule

ABOUT THE PENGUINS

Regular Season Record:
45-28-9 (99 points)

Finish: Second in Atlantic Division,
No. 4 seed in Eastern Conference

Playoffs Round 1:
Defeated Philadelphia Flyers in six

Stats  |   Roster  |   Schedule

SERIES SCHEDULE

Game 1: at Washington
Saturday, May 2, 1 p.m. | NBC

Game 2: at Washington
Monday, May 4, 7 p.m. | Versus

Game 3: at Pittsburgh
Wednesday, May 6, 7 p.m. | Versus

Game 4: at Pittsburgh
Friday, May 8, 7 p.m. | CSN, Versus

Game 5: at Washington*
Saturday, May 9, 7 p.m. | CSN, Versus

Game 6: at Pittsburgh*
Monday, May 11, TBD | CSN, Versus

Game 7: at Washington*
Wednesday, May 13, 7 p.m. | CSN, Versus

* if neccesary

SEASON SERIES

Penguins 4, Capitals 3, (SO)
March 8
Sidney Crosby scored the game's first goal, set up another and tallied in the shootout to lift Pittsburgh to a victory.

Capitals 5, Penguins 2
February 22
Alexander Semin and Alex Ovechkin each scored and Washington's star players outshined Pittsburgh's.

Capitals 6, Penguins 3
January 14
Alex Ovechkin broke out of a four-game goal drought by scoring twice and setting up another goal.

Capitals 4, Penguins 3
October 16
Alexander Semin, Michael Nylander and Boyd Gordon scored in a span of about 12 minutes in the third period.


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