The Capitals won't have an easy time once their first-round playoff series begins Wednesday against a physical, stout defensive team in the Islanders.
After quickly disposing of the Panthers in two games to earn themselves a playoff spot, New York and former Capitals coach Barry Trotz will look to rough Washington up a bit to advance to the next stage.
NBC Sports Washington analyst Alan May isn't taking the Islanders lightly, and in an appearance on the Sports Junkies, he gave his series prediction with an important caveat: the health of John Carlson.
"I don't think they can get past the Islanders if there's no John Carlson in the lineup," May said. "He's [the Capitals] most important player as far all the skaters are concerned right now. If he doesn't play, everyone else has to play more and I don't think everyone else can necessarily handle playing more. I love the way [Orlov] plays, but if he plays too much he can get fatigued."
Carlson suffered an injury in the Capitals' only exhibition game against the Hurricanes and didn't appear in any of Washington's round-robin contests. In Carlson, the Caps were missing the league's leader in points for defensemen as well as one of their best skaters to anchor the defense in front of Braden Holtby.
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His importance to the team's success can't be understated, which is why May believes the fate of the series may rest in his availability.
"If the Caps have Carlson, they'll win the series," he said. "But if they play a soft brand of hockey it'll be a quick exit out of these playoffs. If they play rough and rugged, I like the Caps in about seven games."
If Carlson's healthy, he'll certainly help this team get to that "rough and rugged" style May wants to see out of them.
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Especially against the Islanders, perhaps the best way to beat them is to play their style and not allow New York to control the flow of the game with their physicality. If the Caps are forced to lean heavily on their offense and can't penetrate the Islanders' defense, which tends to force teams to play on the perimeter more often, they'll be vulnerable.
But if they can match New York's physicality and shut down any chances they may create, the Caps' talent on offense should find a way to power them through to the next round. Either way, May might be on to something in predicting a long series.
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