Story highlights: For the third year in a row, the Washington Capitals will take on the Pittsburgh Penguins in the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs. Washington lost the last two series, but this year feels different.
By Bill Sands
Once again, the Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins will be meeting in the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs in what is fast becoming an annual tradition. Caps fans will know that these series rarely have a happy ending, but is this the year that things finally change? Let’s take a look at a few reasons why the Caps may finally be able to exorcise their demons.
Caps Have Nothing to Lose
The last two times these teams met, Washington was the top seed in the league and had to deal with all the pressure that came with high expectations. This time around, however, things just feel different. Washington won the Metro Division again this year (at the Penguins’ expense, no less), but anyone who thinks the Caps are the favorite in this series as a result is sorely mistaken.
Without the pressure of being the clear favorites, the Capitals are free to play loose. The expectations are lower and the playing field is more level, but these are factors that may actually work to the Caps’ advantage.
Braden Holtby is Back
Last year’s Caps-Pens second-round series was dictated by the goaltenders. Holtby had a rough series, while Marc-Andre Fleury stole multiple games and pitched a shutout in Game 7. There’s no way to know for sure, but if Holtby had just made a couple of clutch saves, there’s a good chance that the Caps might have won that series.
This time around, Holtby is playing like his usual self. After losing his starting spot to Philipp Grubauer, Holtby returned in the playoffs and won four straight against Columbus. He’s playing with confidence and looks poised to finally lead his team over the hump.
This time around, it may be the Caps who are the beneficiaries of a hot goaltender.
Pittsburgh Penguins Looks Beatable
The Pens are just one of those teams that knows how to find another gear when they most need it. After a 7-0 Game 1 win over Philadelphia, it looked like Pittsburgh was primed for another Cup run.
The rest of the series, however, proved to be much more difficult. The Flyers came back to win Game 2 and eventually dropped a wild Game 6 to lose the series 4-2. While Pittsburgh escaped, they looked far from dominant.
Sidney Crosby was his usual self, but the back end, specifically Matt Murray and Kris Letang, looked a bit off. The fact that the Pens struggled with Philadelphia, a team far weaker than Washington, certainly bodes well for Washington’s chances.
Basic Laws of Probability
Any good Caps fan knows that the playoff history with Pittsburgh is not a good one. In 10 meetings all-time, the Pens have won nine series, in just about every way possible. In theory, the Caps are due for a win.
Sarcasm aside, this year’s Caps team is hot at the right time and may finally be ready to slay the dragon and get Alex Ovechkin into the third round for the first time in his career.