WASHINGTON -- The Washington Capitals and Philadelphia Flyers begin their Eastern Conference First Round series at Verizon Center on Thursday (7 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports, CSN-DC, CSN-PH). Here are five keys for Game 1:
1. Flipping the switch: The Capitals didn't have much to play for after clinching the Presidents' Trophy on March 28, and it showed in their play when they won two of their final seven regular-season games (2-2-3). A 5-1 road win against the St. Louis Blues on Saturday demonstrated what they can do when they play with urgency, though.
"Even when we lost a few games there, I think we were playing really good," Capitals defenseman John Carlson said. "Maybe one thing you could say is we didn't have that killer instinct enough, but, as a whole, our game was solid. We were out-chancing teams. We were outplaying them, outcompeting them in a lot of areas."
Conversely, the Flyers finished strong, going 15-5-3 in their last 23 games to clinch the second wild card into the Stanley Cup Playoffs from the East.
Video: Capitals talk maturity, challenge of facing Philly
One Capital red hot heading into the playoffs is Alex Ovechkin, who had seven goals in his final six regular-season games to reach 50 for the third consecutive season and seventh time in his NHL career.
2. Something special: Playing with discipline will be important with both teams dangerous on the power play. The Capitals converted at 21.9 percent on the man-advantage, and the Flyers were at 18.9 percent for the season and 20.5 percent with rookie defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere in their lineup.
As unstoppable as Ovechkin (19 power-play goals) looks at times from his usual spot in the left circle, he had one power-play goal in 14 playoff games last year when the Capitals clicked at 10.7 percent. They feel their attack is more diverse this time with the addition of T.J. Oshie and some new wrinkles.
On the Flyers' side, Wayne Simmonds' 59 power-play goals since 2011-12, many of them from in front of the net, rank third in the League. That will present a challenge for a Capitals penalty kill second in the League with an 85.2 percent efficiency.
The Flyers ranked 20th on the penalty kill at 80.5 percent, so limiting their time in the box would be wise.
3. Ghost of a chance: The play of Gostisbehere will be pivotal for the Flyers, as it has been since his arrival on Nov. 14. They were 7-8-3 without him in their lineup and 34-19-11 with him, with their goal production jumping 0.73 per game.
Gostisbehere's 17 goals were the most by a rookie defenseman since Dion Phaneuf's 20 with the Calgary Flames in 2005-06. That included eight on the power play, where Gostisbehere's ability to get his shot through from the point is a weapon.
Video: PHI@NYI: Gostisbehere buries wrister from the point
To prevent Gostisbehere, 22, from impacting the game in the offensive zone, the Capitals will try to make him work in the defensive zone by pressuring him and punishing him physically in his first foray into the NHL playoffs.
"I think Shayne has handled every experience very well," Flyers coach Dave Hakstol said. "This, again, will be a new experience for him, but I expect him to have the presence that he's had throughout the season and be able to handle the new experience."
4. Scoring depth: Although Ovechkin still requires a lot of the attention, the Capitals are a better team offensively than they were a year ago because of the steps Evgeny Kuznetsov (team-high 77 points) and Andre Burakovsky (17 goals, 21 assists) took this season. Together with Justin Williams, who was signed as an unrestricted free agent last summer, Burakovsky, 21, and Kuznetsov, 23, form an impressive second line that sometimes has opponents opting to match their top defense pairs and checking lines against them.
5. Mason vs. Holtby: Although Capitals goaltender Braden Holtby deservedly received a lot of attention for tying Martin Brodeur's single-season NHL record with 48 wins, Flyers goalie Steve Mason is playing with a lot of confidence after starting 17 of Phildelphia's final 19 regular-season games and going 10-4-3. He'll need to be even better to steal this series for the Flyers.
"He's been playing a lot of hockey and making some key saves," Flyers center Sean Couturier said. "He's one of the reasons why we're in the playoffs."
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In eight career playoff starts, Mason is 2-6 with a 3.11 goals-against average and .907 save percentage, but played very well against the New York Rangers in the first round two years ago, going 2-2-0 with a 1.97 GAA and .939 save percentage in five appearances (four starts) after returning from a concussion.