Sure, the division champion Washington Capitals and the two-time defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins split their four-game season series, but we’re not talking about the regular season anymore. The playoff history between these teams is much more lopsided.
The Penguins have won nine of 10 series and left Washington in their wake each of the five times they have hoisted the Cup. The last time the Capitals beat the Penguins in the playoffs was in 1994, in the first round.
The team captains, Pittsburgh center Sidney Crosby and Washington wing Alex Ovechkin, came into the league together in 2005. But Ovechkin has never beaten Crosby in a playoff series, and Crosby has collected three Cups to Ovechkin’s none.
Only Vancouver, St. Louis and Buffalo have spent more time in the N.H.L. without a championship than Washington, which entered the league in 1974-75. Last year’s Game 7 loss to Pittsburgh in the second round was particularly devastating given the talent that Washington put on the ice.
Both teams won their first-round series in six games, with the Penguins beating back the Flyers by winning all three games in Philadelphia and the Capitals surmounting an 0-2 deficit with four straight victories over Columbus. Four of Washington’s six games against the Blue Jackets went to overtime.
Against the Blue Jackets, Ovechkin notched five goals and Capitals defenseman John Carlson dished out eight assists. In net, Braden Holtby regained the starting job to Washington’s about-face in the series.
No. 1 Tampa Bay Lightning vs. No. 2 Boston Bruins
Tampa Bay reigned in first place in the division for more than five months, nearly going wire-to-wire. Boston briefly overtook the Lightning, ultimately finishing one point behind, as the teams ended up first and second in the Eastern Conference standings. The Bruins also took three of four regular-season meetings, giving this series the feel of a conference final rather than a second-round showdown.
Right wing Nikita Kucherov needed only five games to set a Lightning franchise record for points in a playoff series with 10 against the Devils in Round 1. He has 52 points in 50 career playoff games, and his line with center Steven Stamkos and J.T. Miller has been among the most formidable in the N.H.L. since Miller arrived from the Rangers at the deadline. Tampa Bay can claim a Vezina Trophy finalist in net, Andrei Vasilevskiy, and a Norris Trophy finalist on the blue line, Victor Hedman.
No. 1 Nashville Predators vs. No. 2 Winnipeg Jets
The two best teams by record in the N.H.L. will square off in a series more befitting a conference final. Nashville captured the Presidents’ Trophy with the league’s best regular-season record, while Winnipeg finished three points back. Nashville narrowly took the season series by winning three of five games. These teams are balanced and deep, and they present fascinating matchups.
Nashville’s Pekka Rinne and Winnipeg’s Connor Hellebuyck are two of the three finalists for the Vezina Trophy, given to the league’s best goalie. Hellebuyck finished off the first round with a pair of shutouts.
The Predators’ mobile defense, led by Roman Josi and the Norris Trophy finalist P.K. Subban, allows them to utilize a five-man cycle that resembles the movement of a power play when they are at even strength. Winnipeg counters with size and physicality. They are the tallest team in the N.H.L. and one of the heaviest, with the 260-pound Dustin Byfuglien leading a group of four defensemen who are 6-foot-3 or taller.
No. 1 Vegas Golden Knights vs. No. 3 San Jose Sharks
After winning the Pacific Division, the expansion Golden Knights only gained force in Round 1 as they swept the Los Angeles Kings. Vegas allowed only three goals in four one-goal games. Among goalies who started every game for their team, Marc-Andre Fleury leads the playoffs in wins, shutouts, goals-against average and save percentage.