Metro Division – Pittsburgh Penguins vs Washington Capitals
Offense – Typically, these two teams are fairly even when it comes to offensive firepower. There’s not a ton of teams that can hope to match the combo of Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin but the Capitals can counter with Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom. Each tema has secondary scoring to spare. Pittsburgh boasts Phil Kessel, Derrick Brassard, Jake Guentzel(he just scored another goal against the Flyers as I typed this) and Bryan Rust. Washington counters with T.J. Oshie, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Lars Eller and Tom Wilson. After tormenting the Flayers out of the playoffs, this is probably a live shot of Sidney Crosby in the Pens locker room.
Edge – When both teams are healthy, the Pens are deeper at forward. However, Malkin and winger Carl Hagelin have been ruled out for Game 1 already. The longer Pittsburgh goes without Malkin, the more the edge shifts to the Capitals.
Defense – Let’s just be nice and say that neither team is likely to put on a defensive display in this series. Sure, both squads have some competent defenseman. The Caps have John Carlson, Dimitry Orlov, Brooks Orpik and Matt Niskanen. The Penguins have Kris Letang, Olli Maatta, Justin Schultz and Brian Dumoulin. These guys aren’t exactly going to evoke memories of Scott Stevens or Chris Pronger out there. Some are past their prime. Some just aren’t all that good. The games may or may not be high scoring but both defenses should have some serious issues trying to contain the opposing offense.
Edge – This is likely a push. Neither defense is going to scare anyone. The slightest edge goes to the Penguins if and only if Kris Letang has a good series. If he doesn’t, a small edge goes to Washington.
Goaltending – The Caps bounced back to Braden Holtby after sitting him on the bench the first two games of the first round. They went 4-1 in the next five to beat the Jackets and move on after reinserting Holtby as the starter. He was sharp with a goals against of 1.92 and a save percentage of .932.
Not to be outdone, Pens goalie Matt Murray became the fastest goalie to 25 wins in the playoffs in NHL history. Murray has his shaky moments which can be a touch worrisome. Still, he’s got a knack for making the big stop when he has to. His record after a loss is sparkling as well. It’s been difficult to beat Murray two or more games in a row.
Edge – It goes to the 23-year old goalie who already has two Stanley Cup rings on his fingers and could get a third. Murray has shown himself to be the man too often to not side with him.
Series Prediction – Full disclosure, I’m a die-hard Penguins fan. This seems like the year Washington could finally slay the dragon. Pittsburgh just hasn’t looked as dominant as years past. Frankly, they play dumb way too often. If they pull that during this series and don’t have Malkin, the Caps should win. And yet…all the Ovechkin-led Caps have ever known against Pittsburgh is heartbreak. Somehow, some way that continues for another season as the Penguins win in 7 games, sending Washington into an offseason chock full of changes.