COLUMBUS, Ohio — There wasn’t much time for the Washington Capitals to ruminate on their first round series win over the Columbus Blue Jackets late Monday night, nor did they want to. A whiteboard in the locker room listed their bus departure before 11 p.m. Players hurried to shed their gear and threw balls of tape in a bin. Equipment managers scrambled to pack up. Goaltender Braden Holtby lingered, fulfilling his postgame media duties. He had to know the question would come.
What does it mean for these Capitals to get another shot at the Pittsburgh Penguins?
“We’re excited to be in the same position this year just to have another shot at winning the Stanley Cup. Obviously, we knew chances were you’d have to go through them at some point,” said Holtby of meeting the Penguins in the second round for a third consecutive year.
While the second-round schedule has yet to be released, Game 1 will be later this week at Capital One Arena, in which Washington suffered a shutout loss in Game 7 against the Penguins in the second round last year. That only continued a tortured tradition for the Capitals, who have yet another opportunity to break through in the second round against the two-time defending Stanley Cup champions. Pittsburgh has won nine of 10 playoff series all-time against Washington; four have gone seven games.
Here’s a look at the regular season series between the rivals, which ended in a 2-2 split:
Oct. 11: Pittsburgh 3, Washington 2: The first meeting was an undisciplined, early-season performance by the Capitals, who committed six penalties and gave up three power play goals. But it was a promising NHL debut for Christian Djoos. The rookie recorded a goal and an assist, helping his cause to remain in the lineup throughout the season. While Washington received a strong showing from rookie Chandler Stephenson in its first-round series win over Columbus, Djoos has also stepped into an expanded role in the playoffs and has another opportunity to leave his mark in the second round.
Nov. 10: Washington 4, Pittsburgh 1: This was one of the Capitals’ most complete performances early in the year, with the special teams scoring twice after beginning the season with just two goals on 25 power play chances. Washington’s power play unit has been stellar in the playoffs, scoring nine goals in six games against Columbus.
Feb. 2: Pittsburgh 7, Washington 4: The Capitals ended up on the other end of the spectrum in the third meeting, giving up four five-on-four advantages. That nullified a productive offensive day for Ovechkin (two goals) and Evgeny Kuznetzov, who finished with a goal and an assist in a fast-paced contest.
“Don’t take any penalties; I mean, that’s plain and simple,” Capitals Coach Barry Trotz said after the loss. “If you want to nullify a real good power play, don’t let them go on the power play. That’s as simple as it can be.”
April 1: Washington 3, Pittsburgh 1: Washington clinched its third straight Metropolitan Division title at PPG Paints Arena, a performance that also cemented Philipp Grubauer’s place as the starting goaltender ahead of the first-round series against Columbus. He quickly was replaced by Holtby, who responded by helping the Capitals win four straight games in a playoff series for the first time since 1990 to help set up another rematch with their archrival.
“We’ve prepared well. I think we’ve used the year to better our team and our focus now is just on Game 1. For us, it doesn’t matter the team we’re playing,” Holtby said after Monday night’s Game 6 win. “We have a goal in mind of winning 16 and that’s starts with Game 1 of the second round.”