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What's Going To Happen Tonight In The NHL
The NHL’s version of must-see TV gets underway Thursday at the Verizon Center as Alex Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals and Sidney Crosby of the Pittsburgh Penguins clash in the only game on the Stanley Cup slate.
NHL Playoff Round 2, Game 1 Predictions & Matchups
By Bob Duff
Pittsburgh Penguns (+121) at Washington Capitals (-130)
Everything historical points to advantage Penguins in this set. Pittsburgh has won seven of eight previous playoff series between the two teams, including the only prior showdown between Penguins captain Sidney Crosby and his Washington counterpart Alex Ovechkin, who've split three Hart Trophies as league MVP between them. While Ovechkin shows a 3-2 edge in Hart wins, Crosby owns the only Stanley Cup between these two superstars, though that should change this spring.
One major difference in this series from past meetings between these two teams is that Washington now enlist a world-class goalie in Vezina Trophy finalist Braden Holtby. Meanwhile, Pittsburgh is uncertain whether past Stanley Cup winner Marc-Andre Fleury (concussion) will be ready to this series. Matt Murray and his three games of Stanley Cup experience will start in goal, backed up by Jeff Zatkoff, who has two Stanley Cup games on his NHL resume. Fleury continues to practice but there is no timetable for his return. Philadelphia's two first-round wins against Washington came because Flyers goalie Michal Neuvirth stole the games. Can Murray do likewise?
Another key factor will be if Pittsburgh's defence, not the deepest bunch and known more for their offensive capbilities than their attention to detail in their own end, can handle the onslaught of Washington's many skilled forwards that will come them in waves. Capitals defenceman Karl Alzner took a maintenance day Wednesday but is expected to play. Ex-Penguin Brooks Orpik (upper body injury) has resumed practicing but has not been cleared to play and it's uncertain whether he will factor into this series. He's listed as day to day.
This series could be billed as the proverbial irresistable force clashing with the immovable object. The Penguins scored the most goals (21) and assembled the widest goal differential (plus-11) during the opening round of the playoffs. Three Penguins scored three times during their five-game rout of the New York Rangers and four others netted a pair of goals, including rookie Conor Sheary, who's missed the last two days with what the team termed bumps and bruises but is expected to play Game 1.
Washington can score as well, netting 14 goals in its six-game triumph over the Flyers, but the Capitals showed they could also keep the puck out, posting two shutout wins and never allowing Philadelphia to score more than twice in any game of the series.
Pick: The Capitals (-130)
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