Wednesday was an exciting night of playoff hockey and it continues with four games tonight. The Lightning-Red Wings engaged in a physical affair, the Penguins-Rangers had a surprising battle of the backup goalies and the Blues-Blackhawks played in an ultra-exciting 1-0 OT game.
The first game on tap tonight is the Presidents Trophy winning Washington Capitals vs. the Philadelphia Flyers. Game 1 will be the fifth meeting between these two teams—they split the regular season series 2-2 with the Flyers winning each of their games in overtime and the shootout. Special teams will likely play a huge role in this series—Washington has the second ranked penalty kill (85.2%) and fifth power-play (21.9%) while Philadelphia comes in a little lower with the 20th PK (80.5%) and 11th power-play (18.9%). Every power-play will consist of massive point shots. For the Capitals it will be coming off of Alex Ovechkin’s stick, while rookie sensation Shayne Gostisbehere will be ripping them for the Flyers.
The Capitals have the edge in goal with the likely Vezina Trophy winner Braden Holtby between the pipes. Holtby tied Martin Brodeur’s single season wins record with 48 and only lost nine games in regulation all season. The 26-year-old went 2-0-2 with a 2.21 GAA and .926 SV% in four starts against the Flyers this season and was 25-3-3 on Verizon Center ice this year.
For the Flyers, Steve Mason will be in goal. He went 11-4-3 down the stretch to get the Flyers into the playoffs, but didn’t have a tonne a success against the Capitals. The 27-year-old was 1-2-0 with a 2.94 GAA and .902 SV% against Washington and was 2-2 with a 1.97 GAA and .939 SV% in the 2013-14 playoffs with the Flyers.
Mason has been hot coming into the playoffs, but no one has been better than Holtby between October and April.
It is hard to give the advantage to a team going up against the NHL’s only 50-goal scorer (Alex Ovechkin), who also has the NHL’s ninth ranked scorer, Evgeny Kuznetsov, who picked up 77 points (20G / 57A) and one of the NHL’s premier playmakers Nicklas Backstrom. The Capitals haven’t had a tonne of playoff success in recent years, but they added “Mr. Game 7” himself, Justin Williams, this offseason, as well as T.J. Oshie, who had 51 points (26G / 25A) this year. Their top-6 is loaded with point producers and their bottom-6 is difficult to play against and also has the ability to score.
They Flyers top-line is certainly one that can do some damage in this series and their second line, who will likely matchup with the Ovechkin line, has one of the NHL’s best two-way forwards in Sean Couturier. While their top-6 has the talent to match-up with Philadelphia, but their bottom-6 will be over-matched.
If you didn’t know before, the Capitals have the edge across the board. The Flyers’ biggest weak spot is definitely on the blueline. They’re big, they’re mostly old and they’re slow. The aforementioned Gositsbehere has been a revelation for them this season, but the rest of the blueline will likely have a tough time containing the Capitals talent up front. However, they are not afraid to play the body, especially Radko Gudas.
The Capitals’ blueline is a little more balanced than the Flyers—they’re a little younger, have more offensive pop and can play physically as well. John Carlson is their leader back there and led the unit in points, with 39 (8G / 31A), despite playing just 56 games. He was followed closely by Matt Niskanen and Dmitry Orlov, who had 32 and 29 points respectively.
Prediction: Washington Win
Brock’s Prediction Record: 1-2
I went 1-2 last night, thanks to my Red Wings letting me down in Tampa Bay. Hopefully I can have a better night tonight and in this one, I think I made it obvious that I’m going with the Capitals. I think the Flyers can give them a tough time, but Washington is too talented and I picked them to end this one in five. They take Game 1.
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