No. 1 Washington Capitals vs. No. 2 Pittsburgh Penguins
Sure, the division champion Washington Capitals and the two-time defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins split their four-game season series, but we’re not talking about the regular season anymore. The playoff history between these teams is much more lopsided.
The Penguins have won nine of 10 series and left Washington in their wake each of the five times they have hoisted the Cup. The last time the Capitals beat the Penguins in the playoffs was in 1994, in the first round.
The team captains, Pittsburgh center Sidney Crosby and Washington wing Alex Ovechkin, came into the league together in 2005. But Ovechkin has never beaten Crosby in a playoff series, and Crosby has collected three Cups to Ovechkin’s none.
Only Vancouver, St. Louis and Buffalo have spent more time in the N.H.L. without a championship than Washington, which entered the league in 1974-75. Last year’s Game 7 loss to Pittsburgh in the second round was particularly devastating given the talent that Washington put on the ice.
Both teams won their first-round series in six games, with the Penguins beating back the rival Flyers by winning all three games in Philadelphia and the Capitals surmounting an 0-2 deficit with four straight victories over Columbus. Four of Washington’s six games against the Blue Jackets went to overtime.
Against the Blue Jackets, Ovechkin notched five goals and Capitals defenseman John Carlson dished out eight assists. In net, Braden Holtby regained the starting job to Washington’s about-face in the series.
Crosby and his linemate Jake Guentzel share the lead in playoff scoring with six goals and 13 points apiece. The Penguins poured in an N.H.L.-best 4.67 goals per game in the first round and also killed 90.5 percent of their penalties. But Pittsburgh will be without forwards Evgeni Malkin and Carl Hagelin for at least Game 1 on Thursday.
No. 1 Tampa Bay Lightning vs. No. 2 Boston Bruins
Tampa Bay reigned in first place in the division for more than five months, nearly going wire-to-wire. Boston briefly overtook the Lightning, ultimately finishing one point behind, as the teams ended up first and second in the Eastern Conference standings. The Bruins also took three of four regular-season meetings, giving this series the feel of a conference final rather than a second-round showdown.
Right wing Nikita Kucherov needed only five games to set a Lightning franchise record for points in a playoff series with 10 against the Devils in Round 1. He has 52 points in 50 career playoff games, and his line with center Steven Stamkos and J.T. Miller has been among the most formidable in the N.H.L. since Miller arrived from the Rangers at the trading deadline.Tampa Bay can claim a Vezina Trophy finalist in net, Andrei Vasilevskiy, and a Norris Trophy finalist on the blue line, Victor Hedman.
Boston counters with Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak flanking Patrice Bergeron, who produced 228 points in 214 combined regular-season games. Pastrnak led the Bruins with 13 pointsin the first round. The Bruins surged from middling club to contender at midseason and fended off a rally from Toronto in the first round to win in seven games.
No. 1 Nashville Predators vs. No. 2 Winnipeg Jets
The two best teams by record in the N.H.L. will square off in a series more befitting a conference final. Nashville captured the Presidents’ Trophy with the league’s best regular-season record, while Winnipeg finished three points back. Nashville narrowly took the season series by winning three of five games. In the first round, the Jets steam-rolled the Minnesota Wild in five games, and the Predators defeated the Colorado Avalanche in six games, capping the series with a 5-0 blowout.
These teams are balanced and deep, and they present fascinating matchups.
Nashville’s Pekka Rinne and Winnipeg’s Connor Hellebuyck are two of the three finalists for the Vezina Trophy, given to the league’s best goalie. Hellebuyck finished off the first round with a pair of shutouts.
The Predators’ mobile defense, led by Roman Josi and the Norris Trophy finalist P.K. Subban, allows them to utilize a five-man cycle that resembles the movement of a power play when they are at even strength. Winnipeg counters with size and physicality. They are the tallest team in the N.H.L. and one of the heaviest, with the 260-pound Dustin Byfuglien leading a group of four defensemen who are 6-foot-3 or taller.
Up front, the Predators are deeper than ever with the tempo-setting wingers Filip Forsberg and Viktor Arvidsson posing constant threats. Winnipeg’s forward group features Blake Wheeler, whose contributions extended well beyond his 91 points this season; the hulking Finnish sniper Patrik Laine, who finished second in the league in goals with 44, the multi-tool center Mark Scheifele; and Kyle Connor, who led all rookies with 31 goals.
No. 1 Vegas Golden Knights vs. No. 3 San Jose Sharks
After winning the Pacific Division, the expansion Golden Knights only gained force in Round 1 as they swept the Los Angeles Kings. Vegas allowed only three goals in four one-goal games. Among goalies who started every game for their team, Marc-Andre Fleury leads the playoffs in wins, shutouts, goals-against average and save percentage. Vegas had the league’s top penalty kill in Round 1, scored first in three of the four games and stifled Kings rallies. Vegaswon three of four regular-season meetings with San Jose.
San Jose knocked out the Anaheim Ducks in four games by a combined score of 16-4, which was inflated by an 8-1 victory in Game 3. Like Fleury, Sharks goalie Martin Jones was in top form, posting a 1.00 goals-against average and .970 save percentage. Sharks star Joe Thornton has not played since Jan. 23, but he may return at some point in this series. Of late, San Jose has not missed him so much. At even strength, the Sharks have had a ferociously fast, more potent attack. Their power play converted 30 percent of their chances against Anaheim.
Published at Thu, 26 Apr 2018 11:00:09 +0000