Good day, Washington Capitals fans! It's another beautiful day in the nation's capital, the seat of power of the free world and the galvanized steel-toed boot point of the ass-kickingest team in the National Hockey League. The stage is set, the fuse is lit, and there's nothing left to it but to do it: tonight the Washington Capitals take on the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Eastern Conference Semifinals, and all hot Hades is about to break loose. Let's get in there like swimwear, family. Last series, the Capitals went 4-2 to win the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals.
Who needs to step up, who needs to stand out, and who needs to fall back? I get into it at both ends of the ice, plus the triumphant return of Liable To Libel, in our Series Preview.
Like a good comeback to an insult, this battle is all about the second line. If the rushes after the first round are to be believed - which is not just something fraternity bros say during recruitment - Marcus Johansson has been moved up to the top six, and a struggling Andre Burakovksy has been sent down to replace him.
The top line of Justin Williams - Evgeny Kuznetsov - Andre Burakovsky just flat-out underperformed against the Philadelphia Flyers. Williams recorded two points, Kuznetsov just one, and Burakovsky a fat old Swedish göose eg̈̇g̈̇. Meanwhile, playing on the third line, Johansson doubled the production of the entire second line himself, notching six points for his troubles of badassery. I've said it before, and I'll say it again:
Marcus Johansson is in a contract year after going to arbitration this offseason. His play these playoffs is making the decision easier.— Jason Rogers (@HeyJayJRogers) April 17, 2016
If the Capitals can get both top lines humming again at the frantic clip of a Buzzfeed article, then the timeless, classic, ancient query once more becomes the Penguins' to solve: Who you gonna cover? How you gonna stop them all?
It's time for Marcus Johansson, the Washington Capitals, and the entire nation of Sweden and the IKEA corporation by extension to earn that money and cash in.
Holy Goalie, Holtbeast!
Good hockey, like tuna fishing or cybercrime, starts from the net out. Obviously, the Capitals have a newly-minted Vezina candidate (and likely winner) in Braden Holtby. So far these playoffs, Holtby has posted a .968 save percantage, a 0.84 GAA and 2 shutouts. In short, he's stood on his head so long he's developing CTE.
What can you say about Holtby that hasn't already been said about Nutella? Everybody loves him, his play is smooth, and he's damn delicious. The most recent in a long line of staggeringly substantiative Hershey netminders (a list that includes Semyon Varlamov and Michal Neuvirth, both starters in the NHL), Holtby is coming off the best regular season in league history. He is not a question mark or a semicolon or anything other than an emphatic exclamation point for the Capitals, and that is a welcome feeling.
At the other end of the ice, the Penguins will be building an adorable pebble nest guarded by either Marc-Andre Fleury or, as seems more likely for at least Game 1, Matt Murray. Murray, a rookie with just 16 NHL starts under his mustard-stained belt, will likely be filling in until Marc-Andre Fleury heals up or a finds a life mate to accept his mating dance and offer of pebbles and fish.
So, the million-dollar queston is this: whom would the Capitals rather face? Even though he helped dispatch the Rangers in five games, the answer is Murray. Marc-Andre Fleury is a Stanley Cup champion and, despite playing the puck with a recklessness and shocking lack of dexterity reminiscent of one of those flailing inflatable used cars sales effigies, the dude can ball. He's great with the glove, moves well in the crease, and has a soul patch more unsettling than when peanut butter gets that nasty oil separation on top of it.
If it is Murray, Capitals fans have reason to be excited. Sure, he held the New York Rangers to just 4 goals in 3 games, but...how do I put this diplomatically? The New York Rangers are as offensively potent as the Washington Capitals, in the same way that Ron Jeremy is a offensively potent as Prince Charles. I don't care if your body armor can stop a BB gun; how does it do against a .45 magnum?
And with that preview complete, we turn now to the segment that is scheming to split the convention and steal the nomination...LIABLE TO LIBEL: A BAKER'S DOZEN LIES ABOUT THIS SERIES' OPPONENTS!
1. Backup goalie and surprise playoff starter Matt Murray looks forward to facing down Alex Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov and TJ Oshie, because the glory of Valhalla awaits those who die in battle from blunt force trauma and stress-induced dysentery.
2. Kris Letang viciously slashed Viktor Stalberg's throat with his stick, because to have done so by gesturing with his finger might have actually cost him a suspension.
3. Phil Kessel, the result of a twelve year cross-breeding program between a sexually mature gibbon and a Wawa hoagie, is looking forward to round two. Or as he calls it, "seconds."
4. Rookie Conor Sheary has tripled his points-per-game production in the playoffs from the regular season, becoming a bigger overnight hit in Pittsburgh than when the liquor stores re-open.
5. Eric Fehr's Pittsburgh teammates have given him the nickname "The Economy," because he's fragile and not as strong as he used to be.
6. Defenseman Olli Maatta regrets hiring Pat Sajac as his financial advisor, reviewing with regret at his vowel-heavy portfolio.
7. Evgeni Malkin, like a quality borscht, is cold as ice and weird to look at.
8. Marc-Andre Fleury is a man whose name literally means "Notice the champagne storm," which is what his victorious opponents frequently do in the locker room.
9. Pittsburgh, a town that loves to drink, named its basketball team the Sixers to increase local interest. The Penguins will be lacing them up next year as either the Pittsburgh Fifths or the Pittsburgh More Airplane Bottles Than I Should Drink On This Short Flight.
10. If Fleury starts in net for the Penguins, it will be the most play a guy named Marc-Andre has ever gotten in Pittsburgh.
11. Fittingly, Mario Lemieux's name literally means "the Best." Equally fittingly, Pittsburgh is a total hole.
12. Pundits will tell you that the most compelling high-stakes matchup in this series is between Alex Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby, but it's actually between the Consol Energy Center concessions employees and Pittsburgh's unquenchable thirst for ever greater quantities and varieties of mustard.
13. Patric Hornqvist's Corsi For percentage this postseason is 51.7%, exactly the same rate at which his name is spelled or pronounced correctly.