Cap­i­tals, Pen­guins high­light sec­ond round

Early matchup for top Stan­ley Cup con­tenders

The Washington Times Daily - - SPORTS - BY STEPHEN WHYNO

It is the play­off for­mat every­one loves to hate, but say this for the NHL’s di­vi­sional setup: It is serv­ing up a tasty feast of ri­val­ries in the sec­ond round.

For the sec­ond con­sec­u­tive year, Sid­ney Crosby and the Pitts­burgh Pen­guins will face Alex Ovechkin and the Washington Cap­i­tals af­ter they hadn’t met in the play­offs since 2009. Washington and Pitts­burgh were the league’s top two teams in the reg­u­lar sea­son and are the two top Stan­ley Cup con­tenders left play­ing in the fi­nal eight. They get un­der way on Thurs­day in­stead of in early June.

“We’re ready,” Cap­i­tals for­ward Mar­cus Jo­hans­son said of fac­ing the de­fend­ing Cup cham­pi­ons who knocked them out a year ago. “We can’t wait to get go­ing. We’ve worked hard for it. We’ve worked all year and all sum­mer to get back into this po­si­tion, and now we’re here.”

The Ed­mon­ton Oil­ers have waited 11 years to get back the post­sea­son and they now face the Pa­cific Di­vi­sion ri­val Ducks, with Game 1 set for Wed­nes­day in Ana­heim. In the other West semi­fi­nal, the St. Louis Blues have home-ice ad­van­tage against the Nashville Preda­tors af­ter those teams pulled off first-round up­sets.

St. Louis gen­eral man­ager Doug Arm­strong ex­pects it to be far more phys­i­cal se­ries than any­one ex­pects. That could also be the case for the Ot­tawa Se­na­tors against the New York Rangers, too, with two teams that don’t lack for big guys and a thirst for ten­sion.

“When the NHL de­cided to go with di­vi­sion play­offs ... you do get di­vi­sional ha­tred re­ally quick, and that is ex­cit­ing,” Arm­strong said. “This is the ben­e­fit of hav­ing di­vi­sional play­offs is that you play teams right off the bat that you have a his­tory with and you play them con­sis­tently in rounds 1 and 2. There are down­sides to it, but this is the up­side.”

Here are some things to watch in the sec­ond round of the Stan­ley Cup play­offs:

New blood

Pitts­burgh and Ana­heim are the only teams left that have won the Cup in the salary-cap era that be­gan in 2005-06. Washington has been around but is try­ing to make the East­ern Con­fer­ence fi­nal for the first time in the Ovechkin era in per­haps its best chance at a ti­tle, while New York is aim­ing to get back to the Cup Fi­nal for the first time since los­ing to Los Angeles in 2014.

In the West, the Blues have an­other op­por­tu­nity to break through af­ter los­ing in seven games to the San Jose Sharks in the con­fer­ence fi­nal a year ago. Like for­mer coach Barry Trotz now with the Cap­i­tals, Preda­tors have never reached the con­fer­ence fi­nal.

Oh, Canada

A year af­ter no Cana­dian teams qual­i­fied for the play­offs, Ot­tawa and Ed­mon­ton give the Great White North two chances to end the na­tion’s Cup drought that dates to the Montreal Cana­di­ens’ vic­tory in 1993. The Se­na­tors and Oil­ers are un­der­dogs in the sec­ond round, but there are rea­sons to be­lieve they have a shot.

The Se­na­tors’ me­thod­i­cal style of play can frus­trate op­po­nents and at times lull them to sleep, and goal­tender Craig An­der­son has bet­ter num­bers against the Rangers than any other op­po­nent. The Oil­ers have league-lead­ing scorer Con­nor McDavid, so enough said.

In­juries

Nor­ris Tro­phy fi­nal­ist Erik Karls­son of the Se­na­tors played the en­tire first round with two hair­line frac­tures in his foot that are al­most healed. Ot­tawa could con­tinue to be with­out injured de­fense­man Mark Borowiecki and for­ward Tom Py­att early against the Rangers, who are healthy.

The Pen­guins hope to have veteran winger Chris Ku­nitz back for Game 1 and maybe even Carl Hagelin at some point, while Cap­i­tals de­fense­man Karl Alzner remains day to day with an up­per-body in­jury.

De­fense­man Cam Fowler is on track to re­turn for Ana­heim while Ed­mon­ton could be deal­ing with the lin­ger­ing ef­fects of Oskar Klef­bom’s ill­ness.

A sweep of the Black­hawks has the Preda­tors healthy against the Blues, who just got Paul Stastny back from in­jury.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Alex Ovechkin and the Washington Cap­i­tals will meet Sid­ney Crosby and the Pitts­burgh Pen­guins for the sec­ond straight year af­ter not hav­ing met in the Stan­ley Cup play­offs since 2009.

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