In what could be the best, most entertaining series of the NHL playoffs, the Washington Capitals will face the Pittsburgh Penguins in second-round action beginning Thursday. Washington, the best team in the regular season, will host Pittsburgh, the reigning Stanley Cup champion, in Game 1 at 7:30 p.m. ET.
“This is going to be an awesome series,” NHL Network and NESN analyst Billy Jaffe said on CBS Sports Radio’s Ferrall on the Bench. “I’m almost bummed that it’s in the second round, but that’s just the way the NHL playoffs work. You could argue these are the two best teams.”
Pittsburgh beat Columbus in five games in the first round, but Washington presents a considerably more difficult challenge.
“Do the Penguins have enough without Kris Letang?” Jaffe said. “That’s kind of the rhetorical question that I’m curious to see. It didn’t surprise me that they beat Columbus. I thought they would beat them. I thought they would beat them pretty good. I wasn’t completely buying Columbus despite their pretty good regular season. Second round, though, I just don’t know if the Penguins can do it without Kris Letang. With that said, can a guy like Justin Schultz continue to ride the elevator upward, the ascent upwards, and be that defenseman that they’re going to need to play 22 minutes against the Washington Capitals?”
We’ll soon find out, but Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby must continue to dominate. Malkin had two goals and nine assists against Columbus, while Crosby had two goals and five assists.
“The fact that Evgeni Malkin was an absolute monster in the first round is such good news for this team,” Jaffe said. “The fact that Crosby was very good but perhaps has even more in the second round is still a great thing. To me, it comes down to this: the defense and Marc-Andre Fleury.”
Washington, meanwhile, is coming off a grueling first-round series against Toronto. The Capitals won the series in six, but five of the games went to overtime.
“If I’m a Caps fan, I’m fine with them struggling against the Toronto Maple Leafs,” Jaffe said. “It’s the NHL playoffs, and Toronto is the in team. It’s no different than the first round of the NCAA Tournament when all of a sudden these teams from Minnie Mouse conferences end up taking on one of the big boys and taking them to overtime because everybody is in it and everybody is feeling it. So if I’m a Caps fan, I say, ‘You now what? That was great. We got our butt kicked a bit, we handled adversity, we stepped up and we won the series. Now let’s move on.’ I think this is going to be an epic second-round series.”