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Well, well, well … here we are again. For the third straight year, the Capitals and Penguins are meeting in the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs. The Penguins have won each of the past two postseason series against Washington (and nine of the last 10) on their way to back-to-back Stanley Cup titles, and they got the first one in this series as well. 

After the Penguins erased a late two-goal deficit to stun the Capitals in Game 1, Washington bounced back in Game 2 and grabbed a huge win to even up the series. Now, both teams will head to Pittsburgh with a chance to seize a series lead.

Washington has become somewhat of a postseason punchline recently; the Capitals have yet to make it out of the second round in the Alexander Ovechkin era despite plenty of regular season success.

Is there reason to believe that this year should be any different? 

Let’s take a look at how this series breaks down, and be sure to stick around for our predictions.

How to watch

TV: NBCSN, NBC CBC, TVA Sports, NHL Network, SN  
Stream: fuboTV (Try for free)
Follow: CBS Sports App

(All times Eastern)

* = If necessary

  • Game 1 (Thursday, April 26): Penguins 3, Capitals 2
  • Game 2 (Sunday, April 29): Capitals 4, Penguins 1
  • Game 3 (Tuesday, May 1): Washington Capitals at Pittsburgh Penguins, 7:30 p.m. — NBCSN, Sportsnet, TVA Sports 2
  • Game 4 (Thursday, May 3): Washington Capitals at Pittsburgh Penguins, 7 p.m. — NBCSN, Sportsnet, TVA Sports
  • Game 5 (Saturday, May 5): Penguins at Capitals, 7 p.m. — NBC, SN, TVA Sports
  • Game 6*: Capitals at Penguins, TBD
  • Game 7*: Penguins at Capitals, TBD

Series odds

Here’s a look at each team’s projected odds to advance via SportsLine, not to mention their odds to win not only their conference, but also the Stanley Cup.    

Matchup breakdown

Offense

Both teams have a handful of well-known offensive stars who will look to step up to the plate in this series — the headliner obviously being Sidney Crosby vs. Alex Ovechkin. Both guys were very good in the first round — Crosby had 13 points, Ovechkin had 8.

The Penguins finished the regular season fourth overall in scoring, while the Capitals ranked 9th. Pittsburgh has a balanced attack led by a number of studs up front (Crosby, Jake Guentzel, Evgeni Malkin, Phil Kessel, Patric Hornqvist) while Washington is a little more top-heavy, relying on guys like Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Nicklas Backstrom, and T.J. Oshie to make up a majority of their offensive output.

The Penguins have a depth advantage on paper, but they’re also more banged up than Washington right now. Malkin suffered a lower body injury last series and will miss at least Game 1 (as will Carl Hagelin), and Hornqvist missed two games in the first round. The gap may not be as wide as it appears.

Edge: Penguins

Defense

Defense isn’t particularly a strong suit for either of these teams, so it could be a high-scoring series. The Penguins ranked 20th in total goals allowed (and 26th at 5-on-5) during the regular season, while the Capitals faired a bit better, ranking 15th overall and 13th at 5-on-5.

Both teams looked shaky on the defensive end at points during the first round and will need to tighten things up against their opponent’s dangerous offensive unit. However, the Capitals got stronger as their series went on against the Blue Jackets, and they were able to shut down Columbus’ top line and limit high-danger opportunities in the latter half of the series.

I can’t say the same for Penguins, who were lucky to avoid going seven games against the Flyers.

Edge: Capitals

Goaltending

Matt Murray wasn’t overly impressive in the first round series against Philadelphia, despite picking up two shutouts. His save percentage in the series was just .911. It seems fair to expect better from him if he has some help in front of him. He’s still the guy who has helped them win two consecutive Cups. 

Braden Holtby was excellent for the Capitals after taking over as starter for Philipp Grubauer mid-way through Game 2. Holtby stopped 137 of 147 shots for a .932 save percentage and the Caps won all four games he started.

With that being said, Columbus wasn’t getting many great looks against Holtby later in the series, so he should have a tougher time against the Penguins. He’s got very good playoff numbers (he’s the active leader in career postseason save percentage at .932) but he did struggle at points during last year’s series against the Penguins, so we’ll have to see if he can stay locked in this time around.

Both guys had surprising down years during the regular season, each finishing with a .907 save percentage.

Edge: Push

Special teams

The Penguins finished the regular season with the best power play unit in hockey, converting on 26.2 percent of their man-advantage opportunities. The Capitals ranked seventh with a 22.5 percent conversion rate.

Washington had the best power play in the first round, scoring nine PPG on 27 opportunities. However, Columbus’s penalty kill unit is significantly worse than Pittsburgh’s. The Penguins went 5-for-25 on their own man-advantage opportunities, but, again, they may have to deal with some lingering health issues from that group.

Both teams finished in the middle of the pack on the penalty kill in the regular season, with the Capitals holding a slight advantage at an 80.3 percent kill rate (15th in the NHL) over Pittsburgh’s 80 percent (17th).

They were both good while shorthanded in the first round. Pittsburgh only allowed two PPG on 21 opportunities from the Flyers. The Capitals allowed four power play goals in the first two games of their series, but Columbus went 0-for-16 the rest of the way.

Edge: Penguins

Predictions

Blackburn: They say the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results, so maybe picking the Capitals to finally beat the Penguins and finally get out of the second round is an insane pick. But I’ll say this: The Capitals showing mental toughness and bouncing back for an extremely strong finish to Round 1 makes them the appealing pick to me. The Penguins didn’t look that great against the Flyers, they have more problems on their back end than they did in the previous two years, and some key pieces are banged up heading into this matchup. Caps’ year…let it ride, baby. Capitals in 6.

Benjamin: The Penguins are the safe pick, and that’s because, well, they own the Caps. They’re also still very much capable of lighting up the net even when they’re banged up. But I picked Washington to exorcise its demons this year, and a hot Braden Holtby is better than what Matt Murray was in Round 1. This goes against history, common sense and my own inhibitions, but isn’t that what the Stanley Cup playoffs are all about? Caps in 7.

Skiver: The Penguins have won nine of their 10 playoff series against the Capitals, including all three since Ovechkin first made the playoffs with the Capitals in 2008, and to be frank I don’t think Barry Trotz is the guy who’s going to solve the sphinx riddle that is the Penguins this year. I like this Caps team more than I have in the past, I firmly believe older Caps teams would have folded against Columbus, but beating Pittsburgh? I’ll believe it when I see it. Matt Murray has settled down and Crosby looks stellar for Pittsburgh. Once Malkin comes back to the lineup I think it’ll be too much firepower. Penguins in 7.


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