Alex Ovechkin and the Capitals open the playoffs on Thursday. (Toni L. Sandys/The Washington Post)

For the second consecutive year, the Capitals open the Stanley Cup playoffs against a relatively raw postseason opponent. Last April, Washington fell behind Columbus two-games-to-none before winning four straight to close out the series en route to the franchise’s first championship. On Thursday, the Capitals begin their title defense against the Carolina Hurricanes, who are back in the postseason for the first time in a decade.

Led by first-year coach Rod Brind’Amour and captain Justin Williams, a three-time Stanley Cup champion who spent two seasons in Washington from 2015 to 2017, the Hurricanes are embracing the underdog role. The Capitals won all four regular season meetings between the Metropolitan Division foes, including two games in three days late last month, but Carolina enters the playoffs with the third-most points in the league since Jan. 1.

Should the Capitals advance, they’ll face a more familiar playoff foe in the winner of the first-round series between the Penguins and Islanders. Here’s how various experts see the Capitals-Hurricanes showdown shaking out, plus Washington’s outlook for the remainder of the playoffs:

NHL.com

All 15 experts predict the Capitals will advance to the second round, but no one picks Washington to reach the Stanley Cup finals. Tampa Bay is the favorite to win the title with 10 votes, followed by Boston (3), Calgary (1) and Nashville (1).

ESPN

Thirteen out of 17 ESPN experts pick the Capitals to eliminate the Hurricanes. Not one expert predicts Washington will represent the Eastern Conference in the Stanley Cup finals. ESPN sports and information researcher Vince Masi picks Carolina to upset Washington in the first round en route to wining its second title.

Sportsnet

All but one of Sportsnet’s 22 experts pick Washington to advance. The Lightning is the near unanimous pick to win the Eastern Conference, with Kristina Rutherford (Boston) the only one betting against the Bolts.

Sports Illustrated

Four of five experts see Washington losing to the Lightning in the Eastern Conference finals, which would be a rematch of the Capitals’ seven-game triumph last season. Eric Single picks Carolina to eliminate Washington in the first round.

The Hockey News

In a Round-1 only projection THN goes with the Capitals in six.

USA Today

All four experts expect the Capitals to advance in five or six games. While Kevin Allen, Jimmy Hascup, Mike Brehm and Jace Evans all pick a different champion of the Western Conference, they’re unanimous in predicting Tampa Bay will win the Cup.

The Athletic (Subscription required)

Among a panel of 52 writers, 73 percent pick the Capitals to advance to the second round. The Lightning is the overwhelming favorite to win the Cup, with 73 percent of the vote.

Yahoo Canada

Justin Cuthbert picks the Capitals to eliminate the Hurricanes in six games before knocking off the Penguins and losing to the Lightning in the Eastern Conference finals.

Moneypuck.com

Using its win probability formula, Moneypuck favors Carolina and gives Washington a 47 percent chance to reach the second round and a 6 percent chance to win a second consecutive title.

The Washington Post

Neil Greenberg projects the Capitals-Hurricanes series will go the distance, with Washington prevailing in seven games.

This post will be updated with additional predictions leading up to Thursday’s Game 1.

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