Eastern Conference Semifinals preview: Washington Capitals - Pittsburgh Penguins

The Washington Capitals and the Pittsburgh Penguins will battle in the opening round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Here is how the teams did in their first round matchups.

Capitals win series against the Flyers 4-2 led by strong goaltending and a lethal power play

The Capitals started from where they had left off in their matchup against the Philadelphia Flyers. After three games in the series the Caps' had built a 3-0 lead and goaltender Braden Holtby looked unbeatable.

Then the Capitals playoff demons had returned. They lost two straight games and their dominant offense had disappeared. But in game 6, with another chance to close out the Flyers, they finally did.

Braden Holtby got his second shutout of the series and Nicklas Backstrom scored the lone goal as the Capitals won the game 1-0 to close out the series. 

Holtby was nearly unbeatable against the Flyers. (USA Today sports)

Holtby finished the series with a 0.84 GAA and a .968% save percentage. The Caps' power play unit also converted on just under 30% of its chances. If the Capitals continue to put together strong efforts each game they should have a much easier time against the Penguins.

Led by third string goalie Matt Murray, Penguins blow by Rangers, win series 4-1

The Penguins are one of the hottest teams in the NHL right now. The once struggling Penguins looked as dominant as ever in their first round playoff matchup as they absolutely dismantled the New York Rangers and won the series 4-1. 

After starting goalie Marc-Andre Fleury couldn't start the series because of a concussion he suffered late in the regular season, the Penguins looked to Jeff Zatkoff. But quickly Zatkoff struggled and the Pens went with the unknown and young goalie, Matt Murray.

Murray was a brick wall against the Rangers as he had one shutout, a .955% save percentage and won all three of the games he started. If Murray continues to play like an all-star goalie, he could help the Penguins go farther in the playoffs than anyone has expected. 

Players to watch

Evgeny Kuznetsov, Center/Winger, Capitals

Kuznetsov is one of the most skilled players in the league (Getty Images)

In the regular season Evgeny Kuznetsov was one of the best players on the Capitals. In the playoffs he has been anything but. In the regular season in 82 games played, Kuznetsov was among the league leaders in assists with 57 of them to go along with 20 goals and 77 total points. In the playoffs he has had just one goal and no assists with a -2 rating. If the Caps want to make a deep run they will need some young players like Kuznetsov to step up their play.

Matt Murray, goaltender, Penguins

Murray, a new fan favorite in Pittsburgh (Getty Images)

As previously mentioned, Matt Murray has been a rock for the Penguins all season. If the Panguins want to play into May and hopefully into June they will have to rely on Murray for the rest of the playoffs or at least until Fleury recovers from his concussion. The Capitals have no shortage of offensive weapons and Murray will have to shut them down in order for the Penguins to advance.

Series prediction 

This should be another classic series in the Stanley Cup playoffs. It should bring back memories of the classic Ovechkin-Crosby matchup in 2009, a series in which fans saw Crosby's Penguins defeat the Capitals in a hard fought seven games series. This should be a strong defensive battle with both goalies stepping up even though both teams have top tier offenses.

Overall, experience is where the series will be won and lost and the difference is Holtby is has more experience than Murray and for that reason the Capitals will defeat the Penguins in another epic and classic series. 

Prediction: Capitals in 7

VAVEL Logo