Photo: NHL via Getty Images
The Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins will face off in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Second Round series tomorrow night at 7 PM at PPG Paints Arena. Washington has won the last two games but has never won three straight games against Pittsburgh in the postseason before. The game will be televised on NBC Sports Network. Here are five keys for the Capitals to come home up 3-1 in the series:
1. Fast Start
The Penguins are going to come out tomorrow night hot because they will not want to enter Capital One Arena on Saturday in Game 5 down 3-1 in the series. Even if the Capitals are 2-3 at home in the postseason and 5-7 the past two playoffs, the Capitals went 28-11-2 during the regular season and 32-7-2 last season.
The Capitals need to match the Penguins’ urgency and desperation in Game 4 if they are going to win.
Washington has done a good job of getting Pittsburgh on their heels early, scoring twice in the first two minutes of the series and scoring first in all of the games in the series and seven of eight games in the playoffs. The Capitals need to take the energy out of the building from the getgo and play the way they’re capable of playing.
2. Replacing Tom Wilson
Tom Wilson received a three-game suspension on Wednesday evening for hitting Penguins’ forward Zach Aston-Reese in the shoulder, despite not getting a penalty on the play.
Wilson plays on the top line with Alex Ovechkin and Evgeny Kuznetsov and brings energy to the team. His seven points are fifth on the team in the playoffs. He also has two goals. Wilson has four assists and a +4 rating in the series. He leads the Capitals with a +7 rating during the playoffs.
Wilson has not only been one of the Capitals’ best players in the playoffs but also plays a big role on the penalty kill. He is strong defensively as well with 41 hits, seven blocked shots, and seven takeaways in the playoffs.
Replacing a top line forward is tough but the Penguins were able to plug guys into holes when defenseman Kris Letang was suspended for a game in 2016 and was out for the whole series last season and Sidney Crosby and Conor Sheary both missed Game 4 last year. The Penguins won despite missing top players. The Capitals must come in with a mindset to win even without Wilson like the Penguins did the past two series.
3. Shutting Down Pittsburgh’s Top Line
The line of Sidney Crosby, Patric Hornqvist, and Jake Guentzel again combined for all three of Pittsburgh’s goals in Game 3. The trio also combined for five points. The Capitals had issues with the line in Game 1 when they combined for all of Pittsburgh’s offense en route to a 3-2 win.
Ovechkin and Kuznetsov’s line will have the task of playing against Crosby’s line, forcing them to defend more. The line must play a strong two-way game if the Capitals are going to get out of Pittsburgh with a 3-1 series lead, even though Ovechkin and Kuznetsov are more offensive-minded players.
The Capitals took four penalties in Game 3 but limited Pittsburgh to one goal. Discipline will be key in Game 4 because the Penguins are going to want retribution for Wilson’s hit on Aston-Reese even if he will not play.
The Capitals must not get caught up in retaliating if the Penguins make them angry to retaliate for the hit on Aston-Reese. Kuznetsov took one of those for slashing in Game 2 but fortunately for the Capitals, it did not cost them.
The Penguins went 1-for-4 on the man advantage in Game 3. The goal snapped the Capitals’ streak of killing 25 consecutive penalties. Even though the Capitals are fifth in the NHL with a penalty-killing efficiency of 84.8%, Pittsburgh has lots of lethal weapons such as Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Phil Kessel, and Kris Letang.
With a power play that Pittsburgh has, it can go on a hot streak after scoring their first power play goal of the series. Especially since Wilson, one of the Capitals’ best penalty killers, will be out, discipline becomes more important to the Capitals.
5. Focus On the Task at Hand
The Capitals are two wins away from their first Eastern Conference Final appearance since 1998 and only the third time in their franchise’s history. They can also be the first team to defeat the Penguins since the New York Rangers did it in 2015. Despite how exciting that will be, the Capitals know they cannot win two without winning one.
If the Capitals come out in Game 4 ready to match the Penguins’ urgency, they will win. They’re going to have to keep playing simple and play their game in Game 4 in order to steal two games out of Pittsburgh. The Penguins have lost back-to-back home games only once since 2016: last round against the Philadelphia Flyers when they lost Games 2 and 5.
The Capitals have had success at PPG Paints Arena, winning four of their last six games, but the Penguins, who went 30-9-2 at home this season, will come out with purpose in front of their home crowd. If the Capitals focus and are prepared for Game 4, they should be able to pull out a win.
Capitals’ Projected Lines
New lines at the moment:
— Isabelle Khurshudyan (@ikhurshudyan) May 2, 2018
Caps vs. Pens, Game 3:
Holtby vs. Murray
Happy @MayHockeyNBCS Day!
— Isabelle Khurshudyan (@ikhurshudyan) May 1, 2018
Penguins’ Projected Lines
Pens in warmup
Murray (vs. Holtby)
— Tom Gulitti (@TomGulittiNHL) May 1, 2018
Note: Carl Hagelin will be a game-time decision. He has an upper-body injury and missed the first three games of the series.
By Harrison Brown