The Washington Capitals finally defeated their nemesis, the Pittsburgh Penguins. They won the series 4-2 as Evgeny Kuznetsov scored the overtime goal in game six. This is the first time that the DC team has advanced to a conference final in 20 years. This was the first time the Penguins lost a playoff series in 1110 days dating back to April 24th, 2015 when they got knocked out by the New York Rangers. Here’s a look at how the keys to the series played out for both teams.
Second Round Series Review: Washington Capitals vs Pittsburgh Penguins
This was won by the Capitals and Braden Holtby was perhaps the best player of the series. No one knew how well he was going to play considering he’s struggled against the Penguins, but he was fantastic in all six of these games. He was .955 against the Penguins in game six but in the five games prior, his save percentage was a combined .915. Overall, he’s .924 since coming in during the Columbus Blue Jackets in that series. He was the biggest reason why the Capitals won game five as the Penguins could’ve had four or five goals at the end of the second period. At one point, the high-danger chances in game five were 20-3 in favor of the Penguins. He was able to stand on his head and allow his team to win.
Matt Murray had his ups and downs in this series and finished the playoffs overall with a .908 save percentage. It wasn’t his best playoffs but he was over .930 in three of the six games in this series. Those numbers are usually good enough to win. He won two of those games but in the other three games, he was .903 and below which just isn’t cutting it. People will say he had issues with his glove hand but the book on just about every goaltender in the league is to go glove side. His loss in game six marks the first time he’s ever lost an elimination game even though he played a spectacular game. In the end, Washington got better goaltending than Pittsburgh and that made a huge difference.
Special teams battle
Washington’s special teams were once again very good in their second-round series. Their power play wasn’t as good as it was against Columbus (9/27) but it went 4/15 which is still getting the job done. None of their four power-play goals was scored by Alex Ovechkin. They were also able to do a great job killing the Penguins power play, which is a tall task for any team.
Overall, Pittsburgh went 5/19 on the power play in the series which is a step below their 26.2% success rate from the regular season. Pittsburgh’s power play wasn’t as sharp as it usually is and that can happen in a playoff series. All of the credit should go to the Capitals. They were able to get their sticks into shooting lanes and block a lot of shots. They also were able to get their sticks into a lot of the Penguins passing lanes. Intercepting those passes when the Penguins overpassed looking for a shot. Washington had to stop Pittsburgh’s potent power play if they wanted to have a great shot at winning this series and that’s exactly what they did.
Washington and Pittsburgh each traded blows during even-strength despite the Penguins being carried by their top line for almost every game. At times, it looked like the Penguins from 2010-2015. A stretch in which they were carried by their top six and had no other scoring.
Here’s also this regarding the lack of production:
Rust, Hagelin, Kessel, Brassard, Sheary, Kuhnhackl, Aston-Reese, Rowney, Simon and Sheahan combined for eight goals in 12 games, one an ENG. That ain't gonna work.
— Jason Mackey (@JMackeyPG) May 8, 2018
Most of these minutes came on even-strength and that just won’t cut it for Pittsburgh. A lot of their players didn’t play their best games at a time in which Washington’s best players, such as Ovechkin and Kuznetsov did. In this series, Ovechkin scored three goals in the six games and had the primary assist on the series-clinching goal by Kuznetsov. He did all of that while going up against the Penguins top pair in Kris Letang and Brian Dumoulin. Ovechkin has been the heart and soul of the Capitals this whole season and his entire career for that matter, and it showed in this series.
Washington Takes Advantage With Smart Play
The games in the series were mostly even throughout. What it came down to was which team would pounce when the other team made a mistake. It ended up being the Capitals as the Penguins just allowed far too many odd-man rushes at even strength. That was a major reason for their elimination. It showed as players were caught out of position on some of Washington’s goals. In Washington’s tying goal in game five, Letang went to the wrong side of the ice and Kuznetsov went right up the middle of the ice, untouched after receiving a pass, and scored. Pittsburgh also allowed too many odd-man rushes in game three during the third period and it cost them with just over a minute left.
Washington was able to take advantage of the Penguins sloppy defense in their own zone and giving up odd-man rushes. They played with fire and got burned and as such the Caps are moving on to the finals.
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