[Who better than a neutral third party (i.e. someone with varying degrees of disklike for both the Caps and the Pens and recent playoff experience with both teams) to offer his thoughts on what the Caps need to do in order to win their second round series? Here's Travis from SB Nation's fantastic Flyers blog, Broadstreet Hockey, with his thoughts on the matter.]
It's not exactly something a fan is proud of. You know, the losing thing. But given that the Flyers have been eliminated from the playoffs by the Pittsburgh Penguins for two-straight seasons now, us Flyer fans are pretty much the authority when it comes to that team from the Steel City. We know how they win, their strengths, and yes -- believe it or not, their weaknesses. What, you're shocked they have weaknesses? Yeah, us too.
The good sign for the Capitals as they enter the second round is that they've already proven they can beat a hot goaltender. They did it in round one against the Rangers and Henrik Lundqvist, and they're going to have to do it again against Marc-Andre Fleury. Quite honestly, and I'm not making excuses and saying that the Flyers didn't lose the Battle of Pennsylvania 2009 on their own, but Fleury was the difference in the series this year. In Game 2, his toe was the difference between a 3-1 Flyer lead late in the third period and a 2-1 score that the Pens would tie up before winning in overtime. In Game 4, he stopped about a million shots, including about half a million in the third period en route to a 3-1 Pens win.
The Flyers deserved to win both of those games, in all honesty, and they didn't because of Fleury. That's the difference in the series right there and sure, it sucks for us. But the Capitals can use it as a lesson. When you get chances on Fleury, BURY THEM. Put the puck through the back of the net. Leave no doubt. Because if that guy even gets a glimpse of the puck, he's going to stop it. The Flyers six 25-goal scorers couldn't beat him on a consistent basis and there's no reason to believe the Caps potent offense can do it either, especially considering how they barely showed up in the Rangers series. But Ovechkin & Co. will get their chances, and if they can finish even a little bit better than the Flyers could, they should be in decent shape.
Washington was able to beat the Rangers despite Lundqvist because a) they had a solid goalie of their own in Simeon Varlamov (I'm jealous, won't lie), and b) the Rangers are just terrible at scoring. The Penguins are the opposite. Their best line against the Flyers was their third, led by Jordan Staal. He seemed to make noise every single time he touched the ice, and his linemates Tyler Kennedy and Matt Cooke are also extremely dangerous. That surely had a lot to do with the Flyers focusing their top defensive resources on Evgby Cralkin, leaving the third line open to do as they please.
The Caps are going to have to figure out how to spread their defense out to cover all three of the Pens top lines, because they are all equally frightening. Washington has a deeper blueline than the Flyers do and that will without a doubt help. In addition to that though, the Flyers were successful against the Pens' forwards when their own forwards played solid defensive hockey. Ask yourselves if the Capitals can count on that from their forward corps.
Cralkin didn't really take over a game until Game 6, but the Penguins able to win because they generated offense from their depth players. In fact, in the series as a whole, that's who scored the goals on both sides. When the Flyers depth players stepped up, they won. When the Pens depth players stepped up, they won. Those guys could play a large role in your series as well.
The Penguins are absolultely atrocious on the power play. I don't have the numbers or anything, because, well, it's the offseason now and I'm lazy. But just watching their power play over the course of the series, they couldn't even get quality shots on goal half the time. It's just a bad unit, and that was really good for the Flyers considering they love penalties so much. The Caps shouldn't have many problems containing their power play, and their PP being what it is puts the special teams as a whole largely in DC's favor. The Penguins PK was very good against the Flyers excellent power play in the first round, but the Flyers weren't as strong as they were in the regular season with the extra man and I think that had a lot to do with Pittsburgh's penalty killing success.
All in all, the Capitals and Penguins are pretty evenly matched -- just as the Flyers and Penguins were pretty evenly matched. Similar offensive depth on both sides, excellent goaltending, and solid defense. I think the series comes down to one aspect -- can Varlamov stop the Penguins like he did the Rangers? And can he match his counterpart at the other end of the ice? He's shown no reason for doubt up to this point, as I'm sure you all know quite well, and you guys are right to be quite confident in his abilities.
If he plays as well as he's shown up to this point, the Caps will do what the Flyers have been unable to do these past two years. Please, for the love of God, do it.