The NHL playoffs begin Wednesday with four scintillating match-ups, but Scott Ferrall is eagerly awaiting one in particular: Islanders (47-28-7) at Capitals (45-26-11) at 7 p.m. ET.
Ferrall expects a highly competitive series, with Washington – led by Alex Ovechkin and goaltender Braden Holtby – outlasting New York in seven games.
“It’s pretty amazing when you think about it because you could almost say that for all eight of these first-round series – East and West,” Capitals announcer Joe Beninati said on CBS Sports Radio’s Ferrall on the Bench. “The competitive nature of the Stanley Cup playoffs, especially in 2015, is going to be amazing.”
Washington versus New York is certainly no exception. It’s been an incredible season for the Islanders, whose 47 wins are the franchise’s most since 1983-84 (50).
“Credit the New York Islanders,” Beninati said. “They were fabulous this year with the amount of wins they were able to put up. So credit to (head coach) Jack Capuano and the staff and the players from top to bottom.”
Beninati has been particularly impressed with Islanders goalie Jaroslav Halak, who allowed an average of 2.43 goals per game this season. Hotlby has allowed 2.22, which could make for a low-scoring series.
“I thin Braden has just been so good this year,” Beninati said. “In fact, to think about Alex Ovechkin in an MVP race – Braden Holtby might have been the MVP of the Caps this year. So he’s been that important, that good. He’s warmed up to the work ethic and the amount of games that (head coach) Barry Trotz has thrown his way. I think Braden Holtby can be a difference-maker in this series.”
And then, of course, there’s Ovechkin, who led the NHL in scoring for the third consecutive season. Only three players scored at least 40 goals this year: Rick Nash (42), Steven Stamkos (43) and Ovechkin, who blew away the competition with 53 goals.
“If he can get loose 5-on-5, you know he’s going to draw premier match-ups there,” Beninati said. “But if he can get loose 5-on-5, if the power play can click, I think Washington probably has just a little bit too much for the Islanders. I think they’re big and strong. I think it’s going to be the battle (for) the defenders for New York. I’m not sure if the Islander D can physically hold up to the weight of the Caps.”
The Caps have had a ton of talent in recent years but are still searching for their first Stanley Cup appearance since 1998. Their window to contend hasn’t closed, but it’s closing.
“Alex Ovechkin’s a tenth-year pro – and still going strong obviously with three straight goal-scoring championships,” Beninati said. “But probably the Washington team that was best prepared – or at least looked like it was most Stanley Cup-worthy – was the one back in 2010 that got bumped off eventually by Montreal and Jaroslav Halak in the first round. This team, I think, is just overall better prepared. I think they’re better defensively. I think Braden Holtby is ready to take that lift.
“And with respect to the home-ice advantage,” Beninati continued, “it can get very, very good inside the Verizon Center. The Caps know – and the Caps fans know – they’ve got to match the Islanders. Because the Islanders’ resurgence this year – it’s been amazing to go to games at Nassau Coliseum. This is it. This is the end for the Isles. So you know their fans are definitely going to bring it.”