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Berube: No easy choice between Penguins, Capitals

Pittsburgh has speed, confidence; Washington has edge in goal

by Dan Rosen @drosennhl / NHL.com Senior Writer

For additional insight into the Eastern Conference Second Round series between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals, NHL.com has enlisted the help of Craig Berube to break down the action. Berube will be checking in throughout the series.

Berube, 50, was the coach of the Philadelphia Flyers from 2013-15. He was a Flyers' assistant coach for six seasons prior to being promoted to coach Oct. 7, 2013. The Flyers were 75-58-28 under Berube. They made the Stanley Cup Playoffs and lost to the Rangers in the first round in 2014.

There is no shortage of storylines entering the Eastern Conference Second Round series between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals. The hope is that there will be no shortage of drama once it begins later this week with Game 1 at Verizon Center.

But who has the edge?

That question will be asked and likely answered by every hockey analyst in North America and beyond. There is no easy answer. In fact, former Philadelphia Flyers coach Craig Berube thinks there is an argument to be made for both teams when it comes to which has the edge.

Berube breaks it down below:

CAPITALS CAN HAVE THE EDGE BECAUSE…

Experience in net

The Capitals have Braden Holtby, who has started 40 Stanley Cup Playoff games. The Penguins, at least for now, have rookie Matt Murray, who made his playoff debut in the first round against the Rangers and played Games 3, 4 and 5.

"To me, a lot of this series is going to come down to Murray, the goaltending, how he's going to have to play," Berube said.

Murray played well against the Rangers with 85 saves on 89 shots in winning all three games. He had a 31-save shutout in Game 4 at Madison Square Garden. However, he either was playing with a cushion (5-0 win in Game 4, 6-3 win in Game 5), or didn't have to see many shots (17 shots-against in a 3-1 win in Game 3).

Video: NYR@PIT, Gm5: Murray denies Diaz's shot

That could be different against Washington, which tied for the most one-goal wins this season (27) and led the League in winning percentage in one-goal games (.659). Two of their six games against the Philadelphia Flyers in the first round were decided by one goal.

"They're used to playing tight games, 1-0 or 2-1, whatever," Berube said. "That's not going to bother them at all. So it's going to be interesting to see how Murray reacts and the Penguins react to these tight games because the Caps, they're going to play tight, solid hockey."

Competitive cycle game

Berube thinks a slight advantage goes to the Capitals because they have the wherewithal to neutralize the Penguins' speed with their cycle game.

"They're a big team that cycles the puck very well, and that's going to be a key," Berube said. "They need to keep the puck down low. They need to work it with five-man units, not make crazy turnovers or hope plays in the offensive zone because Pittsburgh counters very well on those."

The Rangers were burned by the Penguins' transition game in the first round. A lot of that came with the Penguins' strong play in the neutral zone, but Berube thinks the Capitals can counter that because they're efficient at getting the puck low in the offensive zone.

"They need to just play a hard game down low in the offensive zone," he said.

PENGUINS CAN HAVE THE EDGE BECAUSE…

Speed on the penalty kill

Pittsburgh's speed is evident all over the ice; it was particularly a factor against the Rangers' power play in the first round. The Penguins were all over the Rangers with pressure and it gave them trouble entering the zone and setting up when they did.

The Rangers were 2-for-19 on the power play.

The Penguins have the ability to attack center Nicklas Backstrom when he gets the puck, but they have enough speed to close on shooters such as Alex Ovechkin and John Carlson when they get it. They also do a good job of getting into the shooting lanes quickly.

Video: WSH@PHI, Gm3: Carlson blasts slap shot home for PPG

"The quickness and speed they have to get on people, not give any time, will be very important," Berube said. "They also block shots really well. They showed that against the Rangers."

It's still fair to wonder if it'll be good enough in this series.

"Their penalty killing better be good again because Washington's power play is lethal," Berube said.

Confidence a key

The Penguins arguably have been the best team in the NHL since just before the Christmas break, and in particular they've been red-hot for the last month and a half. They bring a certain confidence into this series that the Capitals do not have.

"They have a swagger to their game right now," Berube said. "They've got speed and they attack."

The Penguins scored 21 goals in five games against the Rangers (4.20 per game), giving them 84 goals in their past 21 games (4.0 per game). They are 18-3 in those games. Counting the playoffs, they have scored 192 goals in their past 55 games (3.49 per game)

"They're going to come after Washington with a lot of speed and a good attack," Berube said. "They've been hot and they've scored a lot of goals. They're playing really well. They have it going."

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