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Penguins expect a 'playoff feel' Thursday against the Caps

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Penguins expect a 'playoff feel' Thursday against the Caps

Thursday's game between the Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins may seem on paper like a lackluster matchup for the normally contentious rivalry. The Caps have already secured the top record in the NHL, Pittsburgh has punched its playoff ticket and needs only two points in the final two games to clinch second place in the Metropolitan Division. It doesn't look like there's a whole lot to play for.

Don't expect Pittsburgh to mail in their performance, however. To them, they see a lot on the line in this game.

"We've got a real big challenge tonight, this is a real good team we're playing and we expect this to be a playoff type game," Pittsburgh coach Mike Sullivan said.

Thursday's game presents a homecoming of sorts for Eric Fehr who returns to Verizon Center for the first time as Penguin.

Fehr missed each of his team's visits to Washington this season due to injury and will finally get his chance to take the ice at Verizon Center on the other side of the Caps-Penguins rivalry.

"Obviously I appreciate my time here in Washington, still have a lot of friends here," Fehr said. It's a great city, just now I'm on the other side of things so I've got to try to come in here and get a win fro our team and do the best I can to help them."

RELATED: Trotz confirms Backstrom returning tonight vs. Pens

Fehr is also acutely aware of former teammate Braden Holtby's chase of Martin Brodeur's season wins record. Though Fehr had previously been rooting for his friend's success, tonight he would like to see Pittsburgh put the death knell on Holtby's shot at making history.

"I was hoping for [Holtby] to get the record," Fehr said," But now that we're coming in to play here and it's down to the last two games, hopefully we can put a stop to it."

But more so than anything else, the Penguins will enter Thursday's game with an eye on the playoffs.

When these two teams met in Washington on March 1, that game was seen as a possible first round matchup with Pittsburgh on the fringes of a playoff spot. Now just over a month later, Thursday's game will pit the two teams widely seen to be the top contenders for the conference.

If both teams wanted to send a message in March for the first round, how much more will this game mean?

"It's a really good team here and this is a team that we played well against last game," Sideny Crosby said. "I'm sure they'll be motivated here at home and we need to make sure that we're winning against tough teams like this." 

"I expect this game tonight to have a playoff feel," Sullivan said. "It's two good teams that have something to play for. We expect it to be a hard fought battle.

"These are the fun games to be a part of from my experience." 

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Stanley Cup Playoffs 2018: The ultimate Capitals-Penguins preview

Stanley Cup Playoffs 2018: The ultimate Capitals-Penguins preview

Round 2: Washington Capitals vs. Pittsburgh Penguins

Schedule

Game 1: Penguins at Capitals. Thursday, 4/26 at 7:00 p.m. ET. (Broadcast on NBC Sports Network)
Game 2: Penguins at Capitals. Date and time TBD (Channel TBD)
Game 3: Capitals at Penguins. Date and time TBD (Channel TBD
Game 4: Capitals at Penguins. Date and time TBD (Channel TBD
Game 5 (If Necessary): Penguins at Capitals. Date and time TBD (Channel TBD
Game 6 (If Necessary): Capitals at Penguins. Date and time TBD (Channel TBD
Game 7 (If Necessary): Penguins at Capitals. Date and time TBD (Channel TBD

Team stats

Washington

  • 49-26-7, 105 points, first in the Metropolitan Division
  • 3.12 goals per game (9th)
  • 2.90 goals against per game (16th)
  • 22.5-percent power play percentage (7th)
  • 80.3 penalty kill percentage (15th)

Pittsburgh

  • 47-29-6, 100 points, second in the Metropolitan Division
  • 3.29 goals per game (3rd)
  • 3.02 goals against per game (20th)
  • 26.2 power play percentage (1st)
  • 80.0 penalty kill percentage (17th)

Top Performers

Washington

Goals

Regular season

  1. Alex Ovechkin – 49
  2. Evgeny Kuznetsov – 27
  3. Nicklas Backstrom – 21

Playoffs

  1. Alex Ovechkin - 5
  2. Evgeny Kuznetsov - 4
  3. T.J. Oshie - 3

Assists

Regular season

  1. Evgeny Kuznetsov – 56
  2. John Carlson – 53
  3. Nicklas Backstrom – 50

Playoffs

  1. John Carlson - 8
  2. Nicklas Backstrom - 6
  3. Evgeny Kuznetsov - 4

Points

Regular season

  1. Alex Ovechkin – 87
  2. Evgeny Kuznetsov – 83
  3. Nicklas Backstrom – 71

Playoffs

  1. John Carlson - 9
  2. Nicklas Backstrom - 8
  3. Evgeny Kuznetsov - 8
  4. Alex Ovechkin -8

Pittsburgh

Goals

Regular season

  1. Evgeni Malkin - 42
  2. Phil Kessel - 34
  3. Sidney Crosby - 29

Playoffs

  1. Jake Guentzel - 6
  2. Sidney Crosby - 6
  3. Bryan Rust - 3
  4. Evgeni Malkin - 3

Assists

Regular season

  1. Sidney Crosby - 60
  2. Phil Kessel - 58
  3. Evgeni Malkin - 56

Playoffs

  1. Jake Guentzel - 7
  2. Sidney Crosby - 7
  3. Kris Letang - 6

Points

Regular season

  1. Evgeni Malkin - 98
  2. Phil Kessel - 92
  3. Sidney Crosby - 89

Playoffs

  1. Jake Guentzel - 13
  2. Sidney Crosby - 13
  3. Kris Letang - 7

Goaltending

Washington

Regular season

Braden Holtby: 54 GP, 34-16-4 record, .907 save percentage, 2.99 GAA, 0 shutouts
Philipp Grubauer: 35 GP, 15-10-3 record, .923 save percentage, 2.35 GAA, 3 shutouts

Playoffs

Braden Holtby: 5 GP, 4-1 record, .932 save percentage, 1.92 GAA, 0 shutouts
Philipp Grubauer: 2 GP, 0-1 record, .837 save percentage, 4.55 GAA, 0 shutouts

Pittsburgh

Regular season

Matt Murray: 49 GP, 27-16-3 record, .906 save percentage, 2.92 GAA, 1 shutout
Tristan Jarry: 26 GP, 14-6-2 record, .908 save percentage, 2.77 GAA, 2 shutouts
Casey DeSmith: 14 GP, 11-6-4 record, .921 save percentage, 2.40 GAA, 1 shutout

Playoffs

Matt Murray : 6 GP, 4-2 record, .911 save percentage, 2.20 GAA, 2 shutouts

Head-to-head record

Series split 2-2-0asdfasd

Oct. 11: 3-2 Penguins win

Christian Djoos tallied a goal and a primary assist in his NHL debut, but it wasn't enough as the Caps yielded three power play goals to Pittsburgh.

Nov. 10: 4-1 Capitals win

The Caps took advantage of their six power play opportunities with two power play goals. T.J. Oshie fittingly scored the game-winner on a power play he drew from Penguins defenseman Kris Letang. Letang cross-checked Oshie so much, he was actually called for two cross-checking penalties on the same shift.

Feb. 2: 7-4 Penguins win

This game marked the beginning of Braden Holtby's lengthy mid-season slump. Washington battled back from a 2-0 deficit to tie the game at 3-3 and again at 4-4, but they could not match Pittsburgh's four-goal third period.

April 1: 3-1 Capitals win

The Capitals clinched their third straight Metropolitan Division championship in Alex Ovechkin's 1,000th career game. It was a mistake-filled game as Washington gave Pittsburgh five power plays, but Philipp Grubauer was brilliant in net with 36 saves in the win. This game may well have been the deciding factor in Grubauer winning the starting job heading into the playoffs.

3 keys of the series for Washington

1. Discipline: In the two games the Caps beat Pittsburgh this season, the Capitals did not give up a power play goal. No team had a better power play in the regular season than the Penguins and we already saw how dumb penalties cost the Caps in the first round. Washington took 24 penalties in six games against the Blue Jackets and that is far too many. They cannot win that way against the Penguins. The problem is that in the second round with a heated rival, tempers can flare a bit. Just look at the last time these two teams played when Malkin was shooting Oshie's stick off the ice and tried to fight Kuznetsov for speaking Russian to him. Still, the Caps are going to have to keep their emotions in check.

2. Getting the goaltending advantage: The scoring depth of Pittsburgh is unmatched. The fact that a team can have Crosby, Malkin and Kessel all on the same team in the salary cap era is mind-boggling. Oh, and by the way, Jake Guentzel scores every time he touches the puck in the playoffs. Washington cannot win this series if they do not get better goaltending than Pittsburgh. The good news is that Murray was not lights out in the first round. Yes, he had two shutouts, but there were also three games in which he let in at least four goals. A .911 save percentage is not where the Penguins really need him to be. The bad news is that while Holtby is statistically one of the best playoff netminders in NHL history, he struggles against Pittsburgh. In last year's series, Holtby managed only a .887 save percentage and 2.57 GAA. One thing to keep in mind, on April 1 Grubauer started a critical game in Pittsburgh and was phenomenal. Could Trotz possibly think of going back to Grubauer if Holtby struggles against the Penguins?

3. Head games: Let's face it, there is a mental aspect to the Capitals' postseason struggles. When it comes to beating Pittsburgh or getting past the second round, this has become a mental hurdle. They have to come into this series with confidence they can win and maintain that confidence throughout, regardless of whether they get down in a game or in the series, regardless of whether there is a bad penalty call, regardless of whether Murray stands on his head again, regardless of any of the struggles they may face, they have to stay mentally confident. When the Caps went down 0-2 against Columbus, Ovechkin said that the series would return to Washington tied at 2. The way he said it, it wasn't a guarantee or some massive proclamation, it was a statement of fact. Both he and the rest of the team believed they were going to come back and win the series. They need that level of confidence against Pittsburgh as well.

What are people saying about this series?

From ESPN: “The Capitals fought through an early goalie controversy to shake the pesky Columbus Blue Jackets in six games in Round 1. Washington will need to perform much better at home to have a chance of knocking off the two-time defending Stanley Cup champions. Sidney Crosby's crew had a seesaw first-round series of their own against another Metropolitan Division rival, the Philadelphia Flyers. Although nearly every game of that series was a blowout, the Penguins outlasted the depleted Flyers in six games -- leaving us wondering if Pittsburgh has enough gas left itself. After all, there's a reason no team has three-peated in more than three decades.”

From Sportsnet: “Holtby’s .907 save percentage this season was by far the worst of his NHL career and in January and February his save rate dropped below .900. This led to more starts for Grubauer, but since wrestling the job back from him against Columbus, Holtby’s playoff save percentage is a very respectable .932 — the second-best mark of all advancing Eastern Conference goalies, behind only Tampa’s Andrei Vasilevskiy. If Holtby is back on top of his game as one of the world’s elite, he will be the key for Washington to exorcise their demons."

From the Pittsburgh Penguins: “See you soon, Capitals.”

Expert picks

Tarik El-Bashir, Capitals Insider: Capitals in 7

JJ Regan, Capitals Correspondent: Penguins in 7 (prove me wrong, Caps!)

Joe Beninati, Capitals play-by-play announcer: Capitals in 6

Craig Laughlin, Capitals color commentator: Capitals in 6

Al Koken, Capitals on-ice reporter: Capitals in 6

Alan May, Capitals analyst: Capitals in 6

Rob Carlin, host of Capitals GameTIme and Capitals Extra: Capitals in 7

Ryan Billie, Capitals producer: Capitals in 7

Grant Paulsen, host of Capitals FaceOff and Capitals Overtime: Capitals in 7

Courtney Laughlin, Capitals FaceOff and Capitals Overtime panelist: Capitals in 6

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How the Caps won their first round series against the Columbus Blue Jackets

How the Caps won their first round series against the Columbus Blue Jackets

Things did not look good for the Capitals after two games.

Facing a 0-2 series hole after losing both games in Washington, it looked like it could be an early summer. The Caps were going to be the first team to ever lose a series in the playoffs to the Columbus Blue Jackets.

HOW DID THE CAPS WIN THEIR SERIES AGAINST COLUMBUS? FIND OUT HERE

But the Caps rallied.

Washington won the next four games and turned what looked like it would be another postseason disaster into a postseason triumph.

Only once in franchise history had the Caps rallied from a 0-2 deficit and only once had the Caps won four straight games to win a series. They managed both against the Blue Jackets.

Here's how the Caps were able to rally to a first-round victory over Columbus.