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Penguins-Capitals rivalry highlights playoffs' second round pens caps game highlights

Penguins-Capitals rivalry highlights playoffs' second round AP Published 3:58 p.m. ET April 24, 2017 Ottawa Senators head coach Guy Boucher gives instructions during the third period in game six of a first-round NHL hockey Stanley Cup playoff series against the Boston Bruins, Sunday, April 23, 2017, in Boston. The Senators won 3-2 in overtime.(AP Photo/Michael Dwyer) (Photo: The Associated Press)

1 CONNECT TWEET LINKEDIN COMMENT EMAIL MORE It is the playoff format everyone loves to hate, but say this for the NHL's divisional setup: It is serving up a tasty feast of rivalries in the second round.

For the second consecutive year, Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins will face Alex Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals after they hadn't met in the playoffs since 2009. Washington and Pittsburgh were the league's top two teams in the regular season and are the two top Stanley Cup contenders left playing in the final eight. They get under way on Thursday instead of in early June.

"We're ready," Capitals forward Marcus Johansson said of facing the defending Cup champions who knocked them out a year ago. "We can't wait to get going. We've worked hard for it. We've worked all year and all summer to get back into this position, and now we're here."

The Edmonton Oilers have waited 11 years to get back the postseason and they now face the Pacific Division rival Ducks, with Game 1 set for Wednesday in Anaheim. In the other West semifinal, the St. Louis Blues have home-ice advantage against the Nashville Predators after those teams pulled off first-round upsets.

St. Louis general manager Doug Armstrong expects it to be far more physical series than anyone expects. That could also be the case for the Ottawa Senators against the New York Rangers, too, with two teams that don't lack for big guys and a thirst for tension.

"When the NHL decided to go with division playoffs ... you do get divisional hatred really quick, and that is exciting," Armstrong said. "This is the benefit of having divisional playoffs is that you play teams right off the bat that you have a history with and you play them consistently in rounds 1 and 2. There are downsides to it, but this is the upside."

Here are some things to watch in the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs:

NEW BLOOD

Pittsburgh and Anaheim are the only teams left that have won the Cup in the salary-cap era that began in 2005-06. Washington has been around but is trying to make the Eastern Conference final for the first time in the Ovechkin era in perhaps its best chance at a title, while New Yor pens-caps-game-highlights-rid-0.html. montblanc pens ebayk is aiming to get back to the Cup Final for the first time since losing to Los Angeles in 2014.

In the West, the Blues have another opportunity to break through after losing in seven games to the San Jose Sharks in the conference final a year ago. Like former coach Barry Trotz now with the Capitals, Predators have never reached the conference final.

OH, CANADA

A year after no Canadian teams qualified for the playoffs, Ottawa and Edmonton give the Great White North two chances to end the nation's Cup drought that dates to the Montreal Canadiens' victory in 1993. The Senators and Oilers are underdogs in the second round, but there are reasons to believe they have a shot.

The Senators' methodical style of play can frustrate opponents and at times lull them to sleep, and goaltender Craig Anderson has better numbers against the Rangers than any other opponent. The Oilers have league-leading scorer Connor McDavid, so enough said.

INJURIES

Norris Trophy finalist Erik Karlsson of the Senators played the entire first round with two hairline fractures in his foot that are almost healed. Ottawa could continue to be without injured defenseman Mark Borowiecki and forward Tom Pyatt early against the Rangers, who are healthy.

The Penguins hope to have veteran winger Chris Kunitz back for Game 1 and maybe even Carl Hagelin at some point, while Capitals defenseman Karl Alzner remains day to day with an upper-body injury.

Defenseman Cam Fowler is on track to return for Anaheim while Edmonton could be dealing with the lingering effects of Oskar Klefbom's illness.

A sweep of the Blackhawks has the Predators healthy against the Blues, who just got Paul Stastny back from injury.

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More AP NHL: https://www.apnews.com/tag/NHLhockey

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Follow Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/SWhyno

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Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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Penguins Postseason Off-Day: Round 1, Day 5

We’ll be seeing Pittsburgh Penguins hockey again soon enough, as the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs is complete and the next round’s pairings are set in stone.  The Penguins will travel to Washington, D.C. for Thursday’s Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Semifinal against the #1 seed and President’s Trophy winners, the Washington Capitals.

We’ve Come to Chew Bubblegum And Kick Ass And We’re All Out of Bubblegum

It may have been a foregone conclusion to most people that these two teams would face each other again in the playoffs, but things hardly looked certain at times for the Capitals who only just eliminated the Toronto Maple Leafs Sunday night in Toronto with a 2-1 overtime win.  It took six games to do something that most assumed would take five or four, and Toronto had a 2-1 lead heading into Game 4, but the Maple Leafs showed that they are very much on the upswing with the young players they have. They will be even more competitive next season.

Also finishing up their series Sunday was the Ottawa Senators, who also went on the road to Boston to eliminate the Bruins in six games.  Clarke MacArthur scored the series-winning goal with the Senators on the power-play in overtime.  All six games in that series were decided by one goal, and four of them went to overtime.

The 1st Round Was Delicious

So, with the second round pairings set, let’s take a quick look at the Conference Semifinals.

The Pacific Division final mirrors the Metropolitan Division, with the #1 seed squaring off against the #2 seed, thus the Anaheim Ducks hosting the Edmonton Oilers starting tomorrow.  The Ducks rolled through the Calgary Flames in four games as John Gibson and Jonathan Bernier combined for a .963 save%.  Edmonton was challenged slightly more by the San Jose Sharks, but still came out on top in six games.  Cam Talbot also had a couple of shutouts in the series, and the Oilers were able to oust the defending Western Conference champions despite the Sharks’ leading the playoffs in blocked shots (Edmonton had only 35 shots go through on Martin Jones).  This series may look a lot more like the Capitals/Maple Leafs series, with a veteran, Cup-thirsty squad facing off against an up-and-coming team with plenty of young guys itching for more playoffs.  My guess is that this series will go to seven games, and the Ducks will move on to the Conference Finals and not have to worry about the Blackhawks.

Feeding The Ducks

The Central Division bracket features the top two teams in the West, the Chicago Blackhawks and the Minnesota Wild ha ha, no it doesn’t.  The Nashville Predators swept the Blackhawks right into the dustbin, led by the fantastic goaltending of Pekka Rinne (.976 save%, 0.70 GAA, two shutouts) and the leadership of Jonathan Toews (one huge goal in a 4-0 with 5:18 left in his season).  The Predators will have the honor of facing the St. Louis Blues, who will host Game 1 tomorrow; Nashville wiped out the Wild in five games also thanks to some very good goaltending from Jake Allen (.956 save%, 1.47 GAA).  Something’s gonna have to give, and my money’s on Nashville to break through and advance to the Conference Final.  In any event, I suspect it’ll be a seven game series, and probably a very close one at that.

These Guys Are Scary

The Atlantic Division bracket is kind of an odd one, the Ottawa Senators hosting the New York Rangers beginning on Thursday.  As I mentioned above, Ottawa squeaked past the Bruins on the strength of some slightly-better-than-Boston goaltending from Craig Anderson, whereas Henrik Lundqvist played very well for the Rangers. The Senators will have to figure out Lundqvist, which may not be too tough considering their three players in the top 15 in the playoffs in scoring (compared to New York’s zero in the top 30), while playing a little more solidly defensively in front of Anderson.  Ottawa’s Erik Karlsson is the leader among defensemen in points (6, all assists) and time-on-ice/game (30:23), and I have to imagine he’ll be all over the ice in this series as well.  Still, I feel like New York has the advantage on a number of fronts, and I think this might be a five-or-six-game series in the Rangers’ favor.

Shhhhhh, Don’t Wake The Baby

Finally, we get to the Penguins and Capitals in the Metropolitan Division bracket.  And really, with all due respect to the Columbus Blue Jackets and Toronto Maple Leafs, this was the only way it was going to happen.

A rematch of last year’s Eastern Conference Semifinal, this series will be more challenging for Pittsburgh largely on the defensive end of the ice. No Kris Letang (at all, sadface) and (as of yet) no Matt Murray means Pittsburgh will have to continue focusing on being defensively sound.  The good news for Pittsburgh is that Braden Holtby was pretty average against the Maple Leafs, and both Toronto and the Penguins have shown that, despite the Vezina nomination, Holtby can be beaten.  We all know that Marc-Andre Fleury has his problems, and the Penguins were able to mitigate those problems with good matchups at home.  The bad news is that the Capitals have the home-ice advantage in this series, so Pittsburgh will have to work harder to get those matchups in Washington.

Flower…Woooooo WHO?

The focus will be on the defensemen on both ends of the ice.  As much ado has been made about the absence of Letang for Pittsburgh and what he means to the Penguins’ 200-foot game, the focus will also be on Washington’s defensemen to not allow the Penguins’ high-flying offense to set up shop in Washington’s end.  Just six shots and one goal separated Holtby and Murray last year (both against Holtby), but with the instability of Fleury they’re going to need that difference to be greater.  The Capitals’ defense has its holes: Kevin Shattenkirk and Brooks Orpik were both -4 against Toronto, and the Penguins abused Nate Schmidt and Dmitri Orlov last postseason.  Both Schmidt (who replaced Karl Alzner mid-series) and Orlov have taken on more minutes for Washington, so we’ll see if they’re any better defensively.

How’s That Working For Ya?

The key to this series for Pittsburgh will be spreading out the offense.  Last year, it was the Penguins’ vaunted HBK line, the “third” line, that did the most damage against the Capitals while the top two lines were relatively quiet.  This year, against Columbus, the top two lines were relied upon and the bottom two were largely silenced.  If Pittsburgh gets Chris Kunitz and Carl Hagelin back for this series, Washington will be harder-pressed on both ends of the ice.  We all know Kunitz is not the offensive beast he was a few years ago, but he can take a licking and keep on ticking with the best of them, and maybe even chip in a few goals.  Hagelin is a speedy, tenacious checker who led the Penguins in points against Washington last postseason.

Old Guys Rule

Here’s a look at what Pittsburgh’s lines could look like against Washington, at least judging by what the lines looked like during Sunday’s practice:

Guentzel-Crosby-Hornqvist Kessel-Malkin-Rust Wilson-Bonino-Sheary Kunitz-Cullen-Kuhnhackl

It Aint Easy …Bein  Cheesy

Sheary was demoted after languishing against the Blue Jackets, and it stands to reason that the demotion will only last until the Penguins are unsuccessful with it.  However, looking at those lines, one would have to imagine Mike Sullivan may tinker with them again as those bottom two are a bit light on offense and the top two might be too heavy.  Might Sheary bump Rust off the second line, or Hornqvist off the first? In any event, you can see how adding Hagelin to the mix would prove only that much more beneficial for Pittsburgh.  I am not as confident that the Penguins will win this series, but I still believe they will, but it will take seven games and it will be a nail-biter the whole way.  If Hagelin and Murray return, the confidence in Pittsburgh’s victory should be much higher.

Are ‘We’ Missing A Link?

As for the Penguins’ defense, it’s been two months since Letang’s neck injury and eventual surgery, and the best thing you can say about Pittsburgh’s defense is that there’s stability and consistency.  Ian Cole and Justin Schultz, Brian Dumoulin and Ron Hainsey, and Trevor Daley and Derrick Pouliot Olli Maatta have held the ship straight enough to be only the second-worst defense left in the playoffs (as far as goals against/game).  Guess who’s #1? I’ll get back to you.  Leaving aside the goals allowed, Pittsburgh also saw forty more shots against than for, 28 unblocked.  The only team that performed worse than them, at two-and-a-half times worse, was the St. Louis Blues.  So, not only is shot volume not perfect in the near term, it shows that a team can be inundated with shots against and still win…they just need their goalie to stand on his head.

I Hear  Nothing

(Washington has allowed the most goals against per game of any team left in the playoffs.  Long story short, luck plays a much larger role in the playoffs.  Taking advantage of your shot volume is important, but cleaning up messes in the defensive zone are critical too.)

There’s still two days to go before Game 1, and there will still be plenty of time to make things ideal.

                                       Black & Gold Nation…Please Remain Positive

Author The66thDopefish Posted on April 25, 2017 April 25, 2017 Categories Uncategorized
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