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(ht to Vice Sports. Read full article here)
In this corner: The Presidents' Trophy winning Capitals (56-18-8, +57 true goals differential), moving on to the second round for the fifth time in eight years. They've lost each of their previous four visits, including three that went to Game 7.
And in this corner: The Penguins (48-26-8, +42), a team packed with elite talent that stumbled out of the gate before changing coaches and transforming into a powerhouse
In round one: The Capitals raced out to a 3-0 series lead on the Flyers before losing two straight to resurrect the ghosts of playoff collapses past; they ended that talk, at least temporarily, by closing out the series with a 1-0 win in Game 6. The Penguins speed-bagged Henrik Lundqvist and the Rangers in a five-game series.
Injury report: The big name is Marc-Andre Fleury, the Penguins' goalie who missed the entire first round with a concussion. He's been skating lately and could return at some point, but until then the Pens will rely on rookie Matt Murray, who played well against the Rangers. The Penguins did get Evgeni Malkin back during the opening round, and the rest of the key names are relatively healthy.
The Capitals are also in fairly good shape, although they've been missing veteran defenseman Brooks Orpik and winger T.J. Oshie looked shaken up by a high hit in Game 6 (but did return for the third period).
Dominant narrative: Ovechkin Crosby Ovechkin Crosby Ovechkin Crosby Ovechkin Crosby Ovechkin Crosby Ovechkin Crosby. The NHL spent years trying to market these two as the Magic vs. Bird rivalry of their era, but they've only actually met in the playoffs once before. That was in 2009, a seven-game Penguins win that many consider one of the best series in recent memory.
The big question: Which secondary stars show up? Crosby and Ovechkin will get the spotlight, and rightly so, but this matchup is just packed with elite talent. If Crosby stumbles, the Penguins still have Malkin and Phil Kessel. If Ovechkin goes cold, the Caps have Evgeny Kuznetsov and Nicklas Backstrom. Any of those guys are skilled enough to take over a game or two single-handedly.
The Penguins have one thing the Caps don't: a true blueline stud in Kris Letang (John Carlson isn't quite there yet). But the Capitals have an all-star in goal, while the Penguins... well... let's get to that.
One player to watch: Matt Murray. With Fleury still experiencing concussion symptoms, it looks like Murray will be the guy, at least early on. The rookie was up to the challenge against the Rangers, outplaying Henrik Lundqvist. But the Capitals aren't the Rangers, and there won't be much margin for error for a kid with just 16 NHL games under his belt.
Key number: 16—Combined powerplay goals for these two teams in the opening round. They each had eight, while no other team had more than six. Discipline and staying out of the box are important in every series; in this one, it will be absolutely crucial.
Old YouTube clip to get you fired up: Ovechkin and Crosby both record hat tricks in a high-scoring Game 2 during the 2009 showdown.
Prediction: Nine of the Capitals' 12 series since 2008 have gone the distance. This one is no different. In the most exciting series of the playoffs, the Penguins win a seven-game classic.
Bonus prediction that is oddly specific: The winning team loses more games in this series than they do in the next two rounds combined.
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