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5 Keys: Penguins at Capitals, Game 1

Pittsburgh rookie Jake Guentzel, Washington goalie Braden Holtby among factors in series opener

by Katie Brown / Correspondent


7:30 p.m. ET; NBCSN, SN, TVA Sports 2

Eastern Conference Second Round Game 1

ARLINGTON, Va. -- The Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins begin their Eastern Conference Second Round series on Thursday. 

The Capitals eliminated the Toronto Maple Leafs from the Stanley Cup Playoffs in six games and the Penguins won their first-round series against the Columbus Blue Jackets in five games.

The Capitals and Penguins are playing one another in the second round for the second consecutive year; Pittsburgh eliminated Washington in six games en route to winning the Stanley Cup in 2016.

In their last regular-season game, the Penguins defeated the Capitals 8-7 in overtime.

Here are 5 keys for Game 1:


1. Jake Guentzel 

Guentzel leads the NHL in playoff goals with five, including a hat trick in Game 3 against the Blue Jackets. He became the first NHL rookie to score five goals in his first four playoff games since Maurice Richard with the Montreal Canadiens in 1944, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. He has scored at least one goal in three of four playoff games and in eight of his past nine games since March 31.

"He's got skill, obviously as a lot of their guys do," Capitals goalie Braden Holtby said. "It's been a trend for years that if you're playing with Sid, you're usually going to get some pretty good looks. We know that. We know the heartbeat of that line is Sid and kind of shutting that down and breaking it down that way. In terms of players having success or not, it doesn't make much difference to me."

Video: PIT@CBJ, Gm3: Guentzel completes hatty for OT win


2. Missing Kris Letang 

Letang, when healthy, is a vital part of the Penguins defense, but is recovering from neck surgery. He played an average of 28:53 per game during Pittsburgh's run to the Cup. 

The Penguins will have to rely on their depth to get the job done during Letang's absence.

"The minutes he plays, it's a huge loss for us, but we've done a great job stepping up," defenseman Olli Maatta said. "Not one guy. It's all six guys. We have a good D group and don't worry about matchups too much. We have six, seven guys on D who can play those 20 minutes a game. It doesn't matter."


3. Special teams 

The Penguins (33.3 percent, 5-for-15) and Capitals (29.4 percent, 5-for-17) each had success on the power play in the first round, continuing a trend established in the regular season, when they were tied for the League's third-best power play (23.1 percent).

Video: TOR@WSH, Gm5: Oshie puts home rebound for PPG


4. Start quickly

The Capitals have scored first in three of their six playoff games and lead the League with eight first-period goals. They were 46-7-5 when scoring first during the regular season and 23-6 in the postseason since 2009-10.


5. Braden Holtby

Holtby allowed two goals on 63 shots in the final two games against the Maple Leafs (.968 save percentage) after giving up 14 on 150 shots (.907 save percentage) in the first four. 

"For goalies, it's about reading plays and being able to connect the dots," Capitals coach Barry Trotz said. "When things are out of the ordinary, then it plays with you a little bit. He had to work through that mentally. That happens during the year a few times and he always gets on track. That's really good for him."

Video: WSH@TOR, Gm6: Holtby denies Leafs' late flurry


Penguins projected lineup

Jake Guentzel -- Sidney Crosby -- Conor Sheary

Bryan Rust -- Evgeni Malkin -- Phil Kessel

Scott Wilson -- Nick Bonino -- Patric Hornqvist

Chris Kunitz -- Matt Cullen -- Tom Kuhnhackl

Brian Dumoulin -- Ron Hainsey

Olli Maatta -- Trevor Daley

Ian Cole -- Justin Schultz

Marc-Andre Fleury

Tristan Jarry

Scratched: Mark Streit, Carter Rowney, Chad Ruhwedel

Injured: Matt Murray (lower body), Kris Letang (upper body), Carl Hagelin (lower body)


Capitals projected lineup

Alex Ovechkin -- Nicklas Backstrom -- T.J. Oshie

Marcus Johansson -- Evgeny Kuznetsov -- Justin Williams

Andre Burakovsky -- Lars Eller -- Tom Wilson

Daniel Winnik -- Jay Beagle -- Brett Connolly

Nate Schmidt -- John Carlson

Dmitry Orlov -- Matt Niskanen

Brooks Orpik -- Kevin Shattenkirk

Braden Holtby

Philipp Grubauer

Scratched: Paul Carey, Taylor Chorney, Chandler Stephenson

Injured: Karl Alzner (upper body)


Status report

Alzner has not been medically cleared and will not play in Game 1. … Hagelin attended the Penguins optional morning skate but is not likely to play. … Kunitz is expected to return to the lineup after missing the last five games of the regular season and all five games of the first round.


Who's hot

Malkin has 11 points (two goals, nine assists) in five playoff games. … Kessel has eight points (two goals, six assists. … Crosby has seven points (two goals, five assists) in his past five games. … Guentzel has six points (five goals, one assist) in five games. …Oshie has seven points in six games (three goals, four assists) in six games. …Williams has six points (three goals, three assists) in his past six games. … Backstrom has six points (two goals, four assists) in six games. … Johansson has five points (two goals, three assists). …Ovechkin has three goals in his past six games.

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