The Eastern Conference Second Round series between the Washington Capitals and the Pittsburgh Penguins should be more than a classic showdown between the Capitals' Alex Ovechkin and the Penguins' Sidney Crosby. According to the numbers, it should showcase exceptional special-teams play and could be settled by some game-stealing performances in goal.
Here are five statistical keys entering the series:
1. First things first: The first period will be critical in this series, because it's a rare vulnerability for each team.
During the regular season, Washington had a goal differential of plus-27 in the second period and plus-33 in the third. But in the first period they were outscored 59-54. Pittsburgh was plus-41 in the second period, plus-10 in the third, but was outscored 67-56 in the first.
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Each team almost is impossible to beat if it finishes the first period with the lead. In the regular season the Capitals were 21-0-1 and the Penguins 20-2-0 in such situations, the two best records in the NHL.
2. Power up: In the Eastern Conference First Round, the Capitals and Penguins were a combined 16-for-48 on the power play, a 33.3 percent success rate. The rest of the League went a combined 47-for-285; that 16.5 percent rate meant the other 14 teams were less than half as likely to score on the power play.
On an individual level, the four players with at least five power-play points in the first round are competing in this series, and six of the 10 who had at least four.
3. In for the kill: Each team's power play will be put to the test by solid penalty killing.
In the first round, Washington and Pittsburgh combined to kill 40 of 43 penalties (93 percent). The rest of the League combined for a penalty-killing percentage of 79.3 percent.
In the regular season, the Capitals and Penguins were among the League's best when shorthanded. Washington's penalty-killing percentage of 85.2 ranked second to the Anaheim Ducks' 87.2 percent, and Pittsburgh was fifth at 84.4 percent. Pittsburgh scored 11 shorthanded goals, second to the Ottawa Senators' 17.
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4. Goal-den: The Capitals and the Penguins are two of the three highest-scoring teams remaining in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
In the regular season, the Capitals scored 248 goals and the Penguins scored 241; only the Dallas Stars, with 265, had more.
The Penguins led the NHL with 33.2 shots per game and were third with 3,775 shot attempts. The Capitals ranked No. 7 in each category, with 30.6 shots per game and 3,688 shot attempts.
On an individual level, four of the 17 players with at least 70 points in the regular season are in this series. Crosby had 85 points, Ovechkin had 71, and the Capitals' Evgeny Kuznetsov and Nicklas Backstrom had 77 and 70.
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5. Net gains: Goaltending will be critical in the face of such potent offenses, which is where Washington has an edge. Braden Holtby had a .968 save percentage in six games against the Philadelphia Flyers. He ranked second among goalies to play in the first round, behind Michal Neuvirth of the Flyers (.981 in three games).
Pittsburgh's goaltending situation is uncertain. Regular-season starter Marc-Andre Fleury is recovering from a concussion, and 21-year-old rookie Matt Murray had a .955 save percentage in three starts against the New York Rangers, which was third among goalies to play in the first round.