The Caps and Penguins renew their postseason rivalry on Thursday (7:30 p.m., NBCSN). Here are three bold predictions for Game 1.
1. Washington will score first
It’s always hard to tell how teams will react to a long layoff. Sometimes they come back rusty, sometimes they look even better than before because of the rest. Six days between games, however, is a long time. When the Penguins returned from their bye week, they did win their first game back, but they lost their first three games on the road each by three goals. I am not going to come out and predict a win or a loss, but the layoff will be evident at the start of the game, especially against a Capitals team that was at its best at the end of Game 6 on Sunday.
2. Patric Hornqvist will draw a penalty
One frequent topic of conversation leading up to this series has been Hornqvist and how he likes to plant himself in front of the net. Barry Trotz even said of him, “He conveniently will fall on your goalie many times.” If the Caps are talking about it, they are aware of it. The first game of the series is not just about winning and losing, teams often try to send messages to the other team too. Washington is going to tell Hornqvist he will be punished for standing in front of Braden Holtby and they are not going to use their words. That someone could even be Holtby himself who was caught slashing Nazim Kadri in Game 2 of the Caps’ first-round series against Toronto.
3. Sidney Crosby will not get a point
Crosby was held to two points in six games in last year’s series. With home-ice advantage, Barry Trotz will be able to get the matchup he wants, namely Nicklas Backstrom on Crosby. It worked last year and he is likely to go with it again. If you are Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan, you could try to avoid the matchup, but you probably trust that no one in the NHL can stop Crosby forever and you still won the series despite Crosby getting only two points. If you can occupy the Caps’ top shutdown center, still produce and free up the rest of your lineup, why wouldn’t you? If Sullivan has to re-evaluate after Game 1 he will, but for Thursday I anticipate primarily seeing Washington’s best vs. Pittsburgh’s best.
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