The Playoffs Have Broken Nate Schmidt

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How do you know that the playoffs are super duper intense? They made Nate Schmidt stop smiling.

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In Alex Ovechkin’s opening shifts, he often likes to make his presence felt. Game One of Round Two was no exception.

Thirteen seconds after puck drop, Ovechkin railed Trevor Daley, knocking the defenseman into the boards. Daley then fell over like a bowling pin.

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The Caps withstood an early flurry by the Penguins and then took control of the first period of Game One. The scoreboard reflected the momentum when Andre Burakovsky scored his first goal of the playoffs, knocking in Jason Chimera’s rebound with a strong net drive.

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After giving out bracelets in the first round of the playoffs, the Caps kicked it up a notch with branded styrofoam tubes for Game One of the Penguins series. The tubes lit up red when activated.

At first the giveaway seemed strange. Caps superfan Goat joked on Instagram that it was “Light-Up Miniature Pool Noodle Night’ at VERIZON CENTER!” But they were stunning. It looked like a pulsating sea of red.

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Round 2, Game 1 Live Blog: Caps vs Pens

Photo: Bruce Bennett

The match-up all of the marketing people in the NHL were waiting for is upon us. Caps vs Pens. Ovechkin vs Crosby. It’s time for these two teams to rekindle the rivalry that was born 7 years ago when the Pens dispatched our Caps in 7 games. (Side-note, holy moly it’s been 7 years since that series!?)

The winner of this series is going to represent the East in the Stanley Cup Final, the next round doesn’t even matter. I would put a large sum of money on that prediction. You can see who Peter and Ian, along with ya boi Keith, a coin, think will win this series HERE. Just don’t look in the comments and see my prediction though….

We’re back to square one and Game One. Liveblog below.

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Is Matt Murray a Legitimate Threat to the Caps?

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Photo: Justin K. Aller

When two teams are as evenly matched as the Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins, every detail is crucial. From lucky bounces to drawing penalties, the little things can be game-changing. And then there’s the matter of goaltending.

Last series, Michal Neuvirth was handed the reins after Steve Mason put up three consecutive disappointing performances for the Flyers. As Neuvy made endless jaw-dropping stops, many of you wondered if the Caps were doomed, Halak-style. Alas, the superior team prevailed, and the Flyers were knocked out in Game Six.

Unlike the Flyers, the Pens are not a team the Caps can hold to 11 shots on goal in a single game. They’ll be facing some very talented players in Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, among others. And instead of attempting to wear down Mason on Neuvirth, the Caps will do battle against rising star Matt Murray. Murray, a rookie, played the entirety of the Penguins-Rangers series in place of starter Marc-Andre Fleury, who is still suffering from concussion symptoms.

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Before the Caps-Pens series, NHL.com’s Dan Rosen sat down with Hall of Famer Wayne Gretzky and asked him about the game’s two biggest superstars, Alex Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby. The captains will play against each other in the postseason for the first time since 2009. The Penguins won that series in seven games.

“Both guys love the microscope and love being under pressure, and both guys seem to elevate their game when they play against each other,” Gretzky told NHL.com’s Dan Rosen. “But that’s natural. Everybody has a lot of pride as an athlete and when you’re an elite athlete and you play head to head against a guy who is your peer, there is more of a motivation factor. I anticipate both players raising their game to another level.”

Gretzky also addressed Ovechkin’s legacy. While the Russian machine has managed to win the Richard Trophy six times and be a four-time MVP, Ovechkin has not won the Stanley Cup in his 10-year NHL career, never making it past the second round of the playoffs.

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Caps vs Penguins Pregame: Sid vs Ovi

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Six years later, the NHL’s two biggest stars will once again face off.

According to reports, their teams might also play.

Sid vs Ovi is a headline, not a story. The Pittsburgh Penguins are a talented offensive team riding a white-hot season finish under a new coach. The Washington Capitals are the league’s most successful team, armed with balanced attack and a top-tier backstop.

The Caps-Pens series of 2009 was one of the most exciting I’ve ever seen. In that battle of Sid vs Ovi, the winner was probably Malkin. Shrug. Maybe this series will be determined by star power, but that’s generally not the way this team sport works.

Now that I’ve spent this intro de-hyping tonight’s game, let’s actually get into it. Puck drop on NBCSN at 8 PM. It’s on.

Team Record Possession PDO Power Play Penalty Kill
Washington Capitals 56-18-8 52.0% 101.1 21.9% (5th) 85.2% (2nd)
Pittsburgh Penguins 48-26-8 53.0% 100.6 18.4% (16th) 84.4 % (5th)

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Photo: Patrick Smith

Inside the cramped visitor’s locker room at Verizon Center, players, media, and staff played bumper cars, attempting — and sometimes failing — to dodge skates, equipment, and each other. “Oh, sorry,” one player said as he bumped me into a television camera.

“It’s not one of the better visiting locker rooms in the league, but maybe they try to do that for a reason,” former Capitals forward Eric Fehr said.

The room may be the size of a large walk-in closet, but there was another reason for the tight arrangements. The Capitals-Penguins series is the most high profile of the second round. Alex Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby will meet in the playoffs for first time since the 2009 semifinals, an epic series that featured a game with dueling hat tricks and a heartbreaking blowout loss for the Capitals in Game Seven. The media list for Thursday night’s Game One spanned three pages, with large camera crews trucking down from the Great White North.

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Where the Battles Need to be Won

Dmitri Orlov Defends

Photo: Patrick Smith

I don’t know if anyone else has been paying attention to the numbers that Sportlogiq has been tweeting out about each playoff game, but I find them fascinating. For instance, did you know that in Game Five of the Caps/Flyers series, the Caps had offensive zone possession for 5:44 and the Flyers for only 2:07?

It was an impressive showing by the Capitals in the loss to be sure, but the interesting thing to me in those stats is that there was only 7:51 of even strength offensive possession by both teams combined. That leaves 32:09 of even strength time in a close, 60-minute game where there wasn’t offensive possession (there was 20 minutes of non 5-on-5 time). That is a huge percentage (80.375 percent to be exact).

That isn’t an outlier either, the Blues/Blackhawks series averaged 10:41 in even strength offensive possession by both teams combined, and they went to three overtime periods. So much emphasis is put on how players and teams play with the puck in the zone and defend in the zone, but the vast majority of time is spent doing other things, carrying or passing through neutral, fighting for loose pucks in all three zones, and regrouping and breaking out.

When it comes down to it, much of this game of hockey is played between the tops of the circles and not beneath them. That area of the ice is where the little things can cause more zone time, a quick strike goal or a huge breakdown. For the Capitals to win this series, they will need to outplay the Penguins here, in the middle of the ice.

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