Between now and Thursday, the Capitals and Flyers will have analyzed and overanalyzed each of their four meetings during the regular season and which areas they believe they can expose.
Let’s take a look at some of those areas:
Capitals power play vs. Flyers penalty kill: The Caps finished with the NHL’s fifth-best power play (21.9 percent), led by Alex Ovechkin’s 19 power-play goals and Nicklas Backstrom’s 27 power-play assists. The Flyers finished 20th on the penalty kill. In four meetings with the Flyers this season the Caps went 3-for-10 on the power play.
Flyers power play vs. Capitals penalty kill: The Flyers finished 11th in the NHL on the man-advantage (18.9 percent), led by Wayne Simmonds (13 power-play goals) and Brayden Schenn (11 power-play goals). The Caps finished second in the league on the penalty kill at 85.2 percent. In four meetings this season the Flyers went 3-for-17 on the power play.
Slowing ‘Ghost’: One of the keys to the series will be the Capitals’ ability to get to (and under the skin of) Flyers 22-year-old rookie defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere, a slender, 5-foot-11, 180-pounder who took the NHL by storm with 17 goals and 29 assists in 64 games this season. The Flyers went 36-19-9 after the arrival of Gostisbehere who scored eight of his 17 goals on the power play.
Keying on third pairs: In the Stanley Cup playoffs, teams can usually go only as far as their third defense pairs and both teams will be looking to expose the other’s perceived weaknesses on the back end. That means the Capitals will try to get their top line out against the Flyers’ third pairing of Brandon Manning, who is in his first full NHL season, and Radko Gudas, a 6-foot, 204-pounder from Prague, Czech Republic who leads the Flyers and ranks second in the NHL with 304 hits. On the flip side, the Flyers will try to expose the Capitals’ yet-to-be-determined third pair. With a physical series anticipated, the Caps could ice a third pairing of puck mover Dmitry Orlov and crease clearer Mike Weber. The Flyers would likely turn up the heat on Orlov, trying to force him into giveaways.
Goaltending: Braden Holtby is coming off one of the greatest individual seasons in goaltending history, tying an NHL record for wins in a season (48) while establishing a record for highest winning percentage of any goalie with 60 or more starts (72.7 percent). He has shown an ability to raise his game in the playoffs (16-18, 1.92 GAA, .936 save percentage), but could not close the door on the Rangers after having a 3-2 series lead in 2013 and a 3-1 series lead last spring. Steve Mason is coming off an up-and-down 23-19-10 season that saw him lose two of his final three starts. Mason has just nine games of playoff experience and is 2-6 with a 3.11 GAA and .907 save percentage.
Coaching matchup: Both teams boast possible Coach of the Year candidates. Barry Trotz, 53, led the NHL with 56 wins and has a wealth of experience, ranking ninth all-time with 658 victories. However, Trotz has never taken a team past the second round of the playoffs, where he owns a career record of 26-38. Flyers coach Dave Hakstol, 47, led the Flyers out of anonymity, coaxing them to a 5-2-1 record in the final two weeks to earn the final playoff spot in the East with a 41-27-14 record. Hakstol led North Dakota to seven trips to the Frozen Four and coached Capitals teammates T.J. Oshie and Taylor Chorney, but has never coached a Stanley Cup playoff game.
Intangibles: Having missed the playoffs in two of the past three seasons, the Flyers will be trying to win for founding chairman Ed Snider, who passed away on Monday at the age of 83 after a two-year battle with cancer. The Flyers last won a playoff series in 2012. That should make Monday night’s Game 3 in Philadelphia an emotional cauldron for the Capitals, who are looking to exorcise the demons of early playoff exits, where they’ve been ousted by the Rangers in seven games in three of the last four seasons.
The pick: Capitals are better than the Flyers in every key area of the game and would need to run into a brick wall in goal to lose this series. The Flyers will be a tough out if given any life. Just don't see then winning until they get to Philly. Capitals in five.