2016 NHL playoffs: Flyers vs. Capitals series preview
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Regular season recap
Nov. 12: Capitals 5, Flyers 2
Jan. 27: Flyers 4, Capitals 3 (OT)
Feb. 7: Capitals 3, Flyers 2
Mar. 30: Flyers 2, Capitals 1 (SO)
Capitals: C Jay Beagle (lower body, day-to-day)
Flyers: D Michael Del Zotto (left wrist, indefinite)
Keys to a Capitals victory
The best way to sum up the Capitals’ remarkable season is this: They set a franchise record for wins (56) and clinched the President’s Trophy before any other Eastern Conference team secured a playoff spot. Big, fast and skilled, they were utterly dominant, riding an offensive wave of Alex Ovechkin (50 goals), Evgeny Kuznetsov (77 points), Nicklas Backstrom (70), Justin Williams (52) and T.J. Oshie (51). They got a superb campaign from goaltender Braden Holtby (48-9-7, 2.20 GAA, .922 save pct.), who tied Martin Brodeur's single-season wins record. They buttress their top-five power play with a top-three penalty kill. Weaknesses? Not many. They are the Cup favorites for a reason, and they are the deepest and most balanced team of the Ovechkin era. Keys to victory? Just play your game. Don’t screw up.
Keys to a Flyers victory
The scrappy underdog Flyers came in on a 15-6-2 roll and are very talented up front with a trio that ranks among the best in the Eastern Conference. Claude Giroux (22-45-67) is a lethal scorer, Wayne Simmonds had a career year (32-28-60) and Jakub Voracek overcame a horrendous start (only one goal and 15 points in his first 30 games) to finish with 11-44-55. Winger Brayden Schenn (26-33-59) seems to have unlocked his potential. Rookie Shayne Gostisbehere (46 points in 64 games) has been a blueline revelation.
Even if their offense matches up with the Caps, the Flyers will need goalie Steve Mason (23-19-10, .918 save percentage, 2.51 GAA) to steal games. With a mediocre defense in front of him, Mason must turn back the clock to his rookie year with Columbus, when he was the Calder Trophy winner and looked like the next great goaltender. He's been steadily rediscovering that form with Philly and this could be his shining moment anchoring a team that has nothing to lose, emotion to spare after the recent death of owner Ed Snider, and a belief that it can pull off the upset. (The Flyers are 11-5-1 vs. Washington during the past five seasons.) They will also need a find a way to boost their middling penalty kill. They rank 20th in the league, at just 80.5%. The Caps can certainly take advantage of that weakness and will.
The Flyers have quickly become one of the more exciting teams to watch in the NHL, and there’s more than enough firepower to go around between these two teams. There might be a few high-scoring games, but the Caps are too deep, too good in goal and too good on special teams. Yes, Washington has been prone to collapses in the past. But the 2016 edition of the Capitals feels different. With enviable depth, this is their year. Capitals in five