Caps again seek revenge on Pens
Like tourists flocking to see the cherry blossoms in full bloom, the Pittsburgh Penguins making a trip to Washington in the playoffs has become a rite of spring.
The Penguins and Capitals will face off in the second round for the third consecutive year with the core groups changed only slightly from past battles.
Back-to-back Stanley Cup-champion Pittsburgh still has playoff MVPs Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, and Washington still has stars Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom trying to make the Eastern Conference final for the first time.
“We faced each other for a lot of games, and we should know each other right now inside out,” Backstrom said. “That’s just how it is. It’s usually tight series and one-goal games. We’re excited about this one.”
It’s hard not to get the “Groundhog Day” feeling about these teams meeting for the fourth time in the past 10 years. The Penguins won the previous three series despite not having home-ice advantage, twice winning Game 7 in Washington on the way to capturing the Stanley Cup.
But this year is different in many ways, most notably on the Pittsburgh injury front. Malkin and winger Carl Hagelin will miss Game 1 tonight in Washington.
Coach Mike Sullivan said Malkin will travel, making him a possibility to play in Game 2 this weekend after missing the end of the Philadelphia series with an apparent lower-body injury.
“I think guys have to step up in different roles maybe,” Crosby said. “I don’t think anybody has to put too much pressure on themselves. Collectively we can find ways and those are guys who aren’t easy to replace, but that’s what we’re faced with.”
A year after the last series between these two division rivals, gone from the Penguins are: forwards Nick Bonino, Chris Kunitz and Matt Cullen; defensemen Trevor Daley, Ian Cole and Ron Hainsey; and goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury.
Gone from the Capitals are :forwards Justin Williams, Marcus Johansson and Daniel Winnik; and defensemen Nate Schmidt, Karl Alzner and Kevin Shattenkirk.
“They have different personnel, we have different personnel,” said Penguins defenseman Kris Letang, who’s back after missing the 2017 playoffs because of neck surgery. “The series is going to play out differently. The game is going to be won differently. You don’t know how it is going to go.”
Pittsburgh, trying for a rare championship three-peat, has won nine of 10 all-time series against Washington, many of which predate current players and coaches. But Capitals coach Barry Trotz said it’s “fitting” his team must again go through its nemesis to advance.
Asked why this year the outcome will be different, Ovechkin said: “I don’t know. One day, it have to happen. If we want to get success, we have to beat Pittsburgh and move forward.”
Crosby has won 44 of the 70 previous games against Ovechkin in the NHL regular season and playoffs, world junior championships, world championships, World Cup and Olympics.