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Capitals vs. Penguins 2017 Playoff Preview: The rematch

Capitals vs. Penguins 2017 Playoff Preview: The rematch

Second round: Washington Capitals vs. Pittsburgh Penguins

Caps record vs. Pittsburgh this season: 2-0-2

3-2 shootout loss at Pittsburgh on Oct. 13
7-1 win vs. Pittsburgh on Nov. 16
5-2 win vs. Pittsburgh on Jan. 11
8-7 overtime loss at Pittsburgh on Jan. 16

Series schedule

Game 1: April 27 in Washington, 7:30 p.m. on NBCSN
Game 2: April 29 in Washington, 8 p.m. on NBC
Game 3: May 1 in Pittsburgh, 7:30 p.m. on NBCSN
Game 4: May 3 in Pittsburgh, 7:30 p.m. on NBCSN
Game 5 (if necessary): May 6 in Washington, TBD
Game 6 (if necessary): May 8 in Pittsburgh, TBD
Game 7 (if necessary): May 10 in Washington, TBD

Offensive preview

Sidney Crosby showed this season that he is not just a setup man as he won the Rocket Richard Trophy with 44 goals. He also finished second in the NHL with 89 points. But the first round was about much more than just Crosby. The Penguins again flexed the offensive depth that gave the Caps fits last year as they scored 4.20 goals per game in the first round, easily the highest scoring rate in the playoffs thus far. Evgeni Malkin leads all skaters in the league with 11 points while Phil Kessel is close behind him with eight. The fact that Crosby is third on the Penguins with seven points speaks to their depth. And let’s also not forget about Jake Guentzel. The 22-year-old rookie who had 33 points in the regular season netted five goals against Sergei Bobrovsky and currently leads the NHL in playoff goals. The Penguins have tons of options when it comes to scoring, enough that they can survive if Crosby or Malkin struggle in this series. Few teams can boast that level of depth.

Alex Ovechkin currently ranks third among active players in goals per game in the playoffs and showed no signs of slowing down in the first round with three goals. T.J. Oshie also had a big series with at least a point in five of their six games in the opening round, but this series will likely not be determined by the superstars. The scoring depth is the key. The Capitals did not enough of it to beat Pittsburgh last season. Do they now? The addition of Lars Eller in the offseason gives Washington four dependable centers and allowed Barry Trotz to roll four lines all season long…until the playoffs. Stagnant production from the bottom six led to a change with Tom Wilson moving to the third line and Brett Connolly moving to the fourth. The fourth line was used sparingly after that. If Trotz does not trust the fourth line against Toronto, he won’t against Pittsburgh. Can Washington then get enough production from three offensive lines to match the Penguins? Perhaps, but they will need more production from players like Evgeny Kuznetsov, Andre Burakovsky and Lars Eller.

RELATED: Power Rankings: On to Round two

Defensive preview

Pittsburgh will be without Kris Letang who is out for the remainder of the season with an injury. He is by far their best defenseman and his loss is a major, major blow considering the Penguins are facing a much better offensive team in Washington than they did in the first round. Pittsburgh's defense was average in the regular season (17th in the NHL with 2.79 goals allowed per game) and, despite the fact that they dispatched Columbus in just five games, they have remained average in the playoffs allowing 2.60 goals per game to the Blue Jackets. They still boast some notable players in Justin Schultz and Trevor Daley, but there is no question this team’s defensive stability is a question mark without Letang.

Washington boasted the NHL’s top defense in the regular season, but they sure didn’t look like it the first round. There’s no question that the Maple Leafs boast a lot of offensive talent, but not so much that the top defense in the league should be allowing 2.67 goals per game like they did against Toronto. That was good for 12th in the NHL in the first round. The team’s third pair of Brooks Orpik and Kevin Shattenkirk seemed to really struggle as the series went along and the Penguins could look to exploit that pair early to see if they are in fact a weakness. Nate Schmidt came into the series in place of an injured Karl Alzner and his speed really seemed to boost the team. Against a Pittsburgh squad that also likes to push the tempo, it’s hard to see him coming out of the lineup anytime soon, but is he ready for top-four minutes against the defending champs? Something interesting to look for is if Barry Trotz elects to go with a lineup of seven defensemen at some point. Brett Connolly has played less than seven minutes in each of the last three games and could be replaced in the lineup when Alzner is ready to return.

Goaltending preview

Marc-Andre Fleury had led Pittsburgh through the first round when an injury to Matt Murray forced him to miss the entire series against Columbus. If you need to go to your backup, however, you can’t get much better than Fleury who previously led the Penguins to a Stanley Cup in 2009. He played extremely well in the first round with a .933 save percentage and a 2.52 GAA.

It took Braden Holtby time to get going, but he rebounded towards the end of the first round and put together his two best performances of the series in Games 5 and 6 in which he allowed just two goals total in 63 shots for a .968 save percentage. Washington needs that goalie to show this series and they need him right away. The Caps can’t afford for him to warm-up for four games.

Special teams preview

The power play for both teams is a work of art. Both finished tied for third in the NHL with a 23.1-percent success rate with the extra man. Where Washington holds the edge, however, is on the penalty kill. The Caps killed of 83.8-percent of the power plays they faced while the Penguins struggled at just 79.8-percent. Both teams’ penalty kills were at 83.3 percent in the first round, however, so both teams know they will have to be better.

Coaching preview

It is too simple to say that Mike Sullivan is the better coach because he has won a Stanley Cup. Let’s not forget, Dan Bylsma also led the Penguins to a Cup as a midseason hire and there are few who would claim today that the now former coach of the Buffalo Sabres is a better coach than Trotz. Sullivan, however, has done a masterful job of leading the Penguins to success even with all their injuries. He took a chance last season of spreading out his offensive talent, but that talent distribution proved to be the difference in the playoffs as the Penguins rode their depth to a Stanley Cup.

This year, however, Trotz is ready. Through three games in the first round, one of the story lines was the fact that Toronto head coach Mike Babcock seemed to be getting the better of Trotz. Trotz, however, adjusted to the matchups, switched up his lines and made the necessary adjustments to put the Maple Leafs away. If Trotz can match wits with Babcock, he can match wits with any coach in the league.

Injury concerns

For the Penguins, just about everyone is an injury concern. Okay, so that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but not much. The major injury is Letang who is out for the season. Goalie Matt Murray has not skated since suffering a lower-body injury. There seems to be no indication on when he could be ready to return and, even if he does return, it’s hard to imagine him taking over for Fleury considering how well Fluery has played. Carl Hagelin has been out with a lower-body injury since March 10, but he seems to be progressing rapidly and could be back at some point for this series.

Pittsburgh is also dealing with injuries to Chris Kunitz and Chad Ruhwedel. Sullivan said Monday both players were “game-time decisions” for Game 1.

Alzner has been out of the lineup since Game 2 against Toronto on April 15 with an upper-body injury. He is skating and is considered day-to-day. With Schmidt playing so well in Alzner’s place, it is unclear just who would come out of the lineup for Alzner when he is ready to return or if it would even be a defenseman.

Who has the edge?

Washington has not lost to Pittsburgh in regulation this season and really built its roster around beating the Penguins. But it is hard to argue with the defending champs who marched over the Caps on their way to the Cup. These teams are the two best teams remaining in the playoffs and there is little to separate them on paper. This is going to be a very close, very competitive series between two teams that look like the two frontrunners left in the playoffs.

MORE CAPITALS: Prediction recap: Caps survive Toronto's best shot

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How to watch classic Capitals games this week on NBC Sports Washington

How to watch classic Capitals games this week on NBC Sports Washington

If you just can't get enough iconic Caps games during quarantine, then NBC Sports Washington is the place for you.

All week long beginning Monday, April 6, NBC Sports Washington will be airing classic Capitals games, including multiple comebacks and culminating with the five games against Vegas in the 2018 Stanley Cup Final.

The games leading into the postseason re-air will include multiple memorable finishes from the 2019-20 season.

Of course, if you make it that far, you certainly won't want to miss the re-airing of the Capitals championship parade that follows.

Here's a rundown of all the games airing this week on NBC Sports Washington:

Washington Capitals at Vancouver Canucks

Date: Monday, April 6
Time: 8 p.m.
Original Game: October 25, 2019

Backup goaltender Ilya Samsonov had a rough day in net, allowing five unanswered goals in quick succession from the end of the first period into the second. But Evgeny Kuznetsov broke the Caps' drought in the final second of the second period, sparking the team to a remarkable four-goal comeback.

The Caps would eventually win in a shootout, kicking off a six-game winning streak.

Vegas Golden Knights at Washington Capitals

Date: Wednesday, April 8
Time: 8 p.m.
Original Game: November 9, 2019

The game that capped off the Caps' aforementioned six-game winning streak - and extended their point streak to 11 - was an easier win. The Caps pulled ahead early and never looked back, keyed by Backstrom's two-goal day.

Of course, games against the Golden Knights will always have a special place in fans' hearts after the summer of 2018.

San Jose Sharks at Washington Capitals

Date: Thursday, April 9
Time: 8 p.m.
Original Game: January 5, 2020

This was as wild a finish as the Caps have had in a long time. Down 3-2, they pulled Braden Holtby late in the third period, and the Sharks took advantage with an empty-netter. Then, miraculously, the Capitals scored twice in the final 47 seconds of the game to force overtime, where they won the game.

The Caps would have considered themselves lucky just to come away with a point here, and instead, they got two in one of the most memorable finishes in franchise history.

How to watch the 2018 Stanley Cup Final, Washington Capitals vs. Las Vegas Golden Knights

All-day Sunday, April 12

Game 1
Time:
9 a.m.
Location: Las Vegas
Original Game: May 28, 2018

The first team in the nation's capital to make even a semifinal run in 20 years, the hype surrounding the Capitals in the Stanley Cup Final was immeasurable. The Golden Knights hosted Game 1 with a breathtaking opening ceremony, and the two teams jumped on each other early with a 2-2 first period. 

Washington took the lead 4-3 early in the third period, but Braden Holtby struggled during the frame and the Caps fell 6-4 to fall behind in the series, as they had throughout the postseason run.

Game 2
Time:
11:30 a.m.
Location: Las Vegas
Original Game: May 30, 2018

The Caps fell behind early in the game, but bounced back to steal a close Game 2. Alex Ovechkin scored his first goal of the series, Braden Holtby was superb - including an all-time legendary save - and the Capitals headed home tied 1-1 in the series.

Game 3
Time:
2 p.m.
Location: Washington
Original Game: June 2, 2018

The first home championship game Washington hosted in years, Game 3 was as hot a ticket as you'll ever find.

Holtby was terrific once again, allowing his only goal in the third period. Evgeny Kuznetsov recorded a goal and an assist, and to nobody's surprise, it was Ovechkin who scored the Caps' first home goal of the series.

Game 4
Time:
4:30 p.m.
Location: Washington
Original Game: June 4, 2018

Game 4 was the Caps' biggest explosion. They scored six goals in the game, including three on the power play. Six different players netted goals for the Capitals in a well-rounded effort, boosted by Backstrom's three assists.

After their easiest win of the series, the Caps were riding high up 3-1 heading back to Las Vegas.

Game 5
Time:
7 p.m.
Location: Las Vegas
Original Game: June 7, 2018

The one that needs no introduction, right? After a scoreless first period, the teams exploded for five combined goals in the second period, including a power play goal from Ovi.

Trailing 3-2 entering the third period, the Caps needed someone else to step up, and they got it. Devante Smith-Pelly tied the game midway through the frame, and Lars Eller gave them the Cup-clinching goal a few minutes later.

Holtby held on the rest of the way, and the Capitals became your 2018 Stanley Cup Champions.

Championship Parade

Time: 9:30 p.m.
Original Date: June 12, 2018

What more needs to be said? The Capitals kicked off the great summer of celebration in style, parading through Washington, D.C. and sharing the glory of their title runs during an unforgettable afternoon with thousands of fans.

If you somehow missed this live, you don't want to miss re-living it now.

Stay connected to the Capitals and Wizards with the MyTeams app. Click here to download for comprehensive coverage of your teams.

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Lars Eller may be the Tiger, but Caps coach Todd Reirden is not about to lump him in with the people from 'Tiger King'

Lars Eller may be the Tiger, but Caps coach Todd Reirden is not about to lump him in with the people from 'Tiger King'

Like everyone during this time of social distancing because of the coronavirus, Todd Reirden is getting some extra time to catch up on some TV. Also like everyone, one of the shows he has watched during the NHL's pause in the season is the Netflix docuseries "Tiger King."

"I did take myself through the 'Tiger King,'" Reirden said on a conference call Monday. "That I did watch. I watched that one on my own. I did not have my wife and son in on that one. I wanted to be prepared for discussion points with the players if they had seen it. So I did watch that. I'll just leave it at that, but I did watch it."

So Reirden has watched it, but just for reference. Right.

"It's just one of those things that you want to be prepared for as a coach because you know they all have watched it and I saw the amount of people that have watched it," Reirden said. "I have not gotten into in-depth discussions but when I do get together with the players one day when things become normal again for us."

While Reirden was diplomatic about what he thought about the people featured in the series, he also made it clear he was not about to compare any of the Capitals players to Joe Exotic or any of the other...colorful characters. That includes Lars Eller.

Eller's nickname, of course, is 'Tiger' after he chose the tiger for his spirit animal in a talk with Tony Robbins. When Reirden was asked Monday if Eller was the team's "Tiger King," Reirden was pretty quick to shut that down.

"Lars Eller, I mean he is our Tiger for sure on our team," Reirden said. "I hate to couple him into the same kind of personality that's going on with the 'Tiger King, 'but certainly he has the name for it. So that's an interesting thought that I need to spend some more time on before I commit to it."

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