PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — For the third year in a row, the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs will feature the Pittsburgh Penguins taking on the Washington Capitals.
The Penguins have managed to get by the Caps the past two years on their way to winning the Stanley Cup.
So will the Pens make it three years in row?
Here’s the predictions from the KDKA-TV Sports Department.
Bob Pompeani – KDKA-TV
This will go seven, In my opinion.
It has before and it will again.
These two teams have been on a collision course for the last three post seasons with the Penguins having used Washington as a stepping stone for greater success.
Can it happen again? The only thing I can say is, it WON’T be easy
The Capitals have the home ice advantage which has not been one for them against the Penguins. But this year, could be different as the Penguins struggled during the regular season on the road BUT went 3-0 at their home away from home at Well Fargo Center in Philadelphia.
This matchup still always focuses on Crosby versus Ovechkin and will again, but other star players are injured.
Injuries always play a role, to start with game one, the Penguins will play it with Evgeni Malkin (who skated today) and Carl Hagelin (he did not make the trip).
That challenges their depth no doubt, but if you think the Penguins will panic—PLEASE remember what they have done in previous playoffs. No Kris Letang last year and they won it all.
The year before that, no Fleury or Murray to start the post season yet Jeff Zatkoff was cool and calm in a big win over the Rangers.
This team believes in the “next man up” theory and they back it up.
Interesting numbers for both Crosby and Ovechkin against each other in the playoffs. Crosby is the Penguins postseason leader in points against Washington with 22 followed by Malkin with 19.
For the Capitals, Ovechkin is the Caps postseason leader in points against Pittsburgh with 26 followed by Backstrom with 19.
Meaning – the stars often cancel each other out, so who among the others might become the X Factor? To me, it’s Derick Brassard for the Penguins who has been good two ways, but has not offered much offensively so far. This series could change that. He has gone again the Caps in previous playoffs and is almost a point per game producer, 13 points in 14 games.
For the Capitals, I’m going with two players who played a significant role in the Caps come from behind series against Columbus.
Devante Smith-Pelly (4 points and a big back breaking goal in game 6) and Chandler Stephenson who had 4 points in 6 games as a fourth line member, they both have played well.
BUT ULTIMATELY, this will come down to goaltender, Matt Murray, 2-time Cup champion against former Vezina winner Braydon Holtby. Holby struggled this year after he posted nine shutouts last year, none this year. He eventually lost his job but got it back in that Columbus series and responded, 1.92 goals again and a .932 save percentage.
Murray’s numbers are not as good from the Flyers series, 2.20 goals against and a .911 save percentage. But, Murray always seems to make his best saves in the biggest times. Mike Sullivan was tempted to yank him in game 6 vs Philly, but chose to follow his gut and it paid off. He knows Murray is mentally strong.
To me, I like Murray over Holtby in this critical matchup which is why I like the Penguins to beat the Capitals in another 7 game beauty. #Elimin8ed LOL
Rich Walsh – KDKA-TV
For me, it all depends when Evgeni Malkin is able to play.
The good news is it appears he will only miss the first game in Washington DC.
Without Malkin I don’t think the Pens win this series.
With Malkin, I like the Pens in 7 games.
In 13 games over the last two postseason, Malkin has 9 points (4 goals and 5 assists).
Only Phil Kessel had more points against the Caps in those games.
Sidney Crosby also had nine points.
Malkin is a big loss in game one and so is Carl Hagelin.
Hagelin will miss at least the first two games of this series.
Hagelin also has had post season success against Washington. He has played in 11 games against the Caps and has four goals and four assists.
The Pens will miss Hagelin most on the penalty kill.
The Pens have a huge mental advantage against the Capitals.
They have owned Washington in the playoffs. The Pens are 9-1 all-time in post season series against the Caps.
I think this series will be tied after four games. Then it will be best of three when the Pens are healthy. I like the Pens chances to win two of three.
Pens in 7