1. Good Guys
It looks as if the Caps’ lines for Game 1 are more or less set (whether you agree with them or not):
Capitals lines at Monday practice:— Samantha Pell (@SamanthaJPell) May 2, 2022
Three goalies: Samsonov, Vanecek, Fucale
These lines provide some balance, but watch for that top line to struggle defensively and warrant a bit of a reshuffling to add some defensive conscience (in a series that won’t have much).
I just don't see how that Ovechkin-Kuznetsov-Sheary line is going to be tenable from a defensive standpoint (and the offensive upside ain't there to justify it either). Barkov's line will eat them alive. Gotta get 43 back on that top line to bring some defensive GAS. pic.twitter.com/CBKviQHfBt— Japers’ Rink (@JapersRink) May 3, 2022
2. Bad Guys
And here’s how the Panthers looked this morning:
Panthers at their morning skate prior to Game 1 vs. Capitals:— Tom Gulitti (@TomGulittiNHL) May 3, 2022
Continues to look like Ekblad will return.
That’s a 94-goal top line, 79 from the second, 69 from the third and 29 from the fourth, with a 30-goal guy (or two) on each of the top three lines. By contrast, if the Caps stick with their lines from yesterday’s practice, they go 93-39-33-31. Granted, the Caps’ injury issues up front are well-documented (and, it would seem, resolved), so what if we adjust it for each player’s 82-game pace? The Panthers’ lines get bumped to 107-86-84-36, while the Caps are still badly outgunned up front, especially in the middle six, at 100-46-55-41. (And before you joke about the Caps’ fourth line leading the way, recall that Nic Dowd and Garnet Hathaway tied for the team lead in goals in last year’s playoffs with two apiece, and combined for more even-strength tallies (4) than the rest of the club combined.)
Panthers coach Andrew Brunette confirms Aaron Ekblad (lower body) will play tonight in Game 1 vs. Capitals— Tom Gulitti (@TomGulittiNHL) May 3, 2022
On the other hand, Radko Gudas is in their second defensive pair, so...
3. It’s Been a While
The last time the Panthers won a playoff series, Vitek Vanecek wasn’t yet six months old and Ilya Samsonov was still nearly nine months from being born (maybe his folks got caught up in that rat-throwing playoff run). Florida is 0-and-6 in series since then, an abysmal number both in terms of winning percentage (duh) and sheer number of playoff appearances, averaging just one every four years since going to the Finals in 1996. They’re riding a four-game Game 1 losing streak, have a starting goalie who has notoriously struggled in the post-season in the past, a rookie head coach and the weight of a Presidents’ Trophy on top of it all (the League leader in points has lost in the first round five times since the 2004-05 lockout).
There can be no doubt that the Panthers are under a massive amount of pressure in this series, a burden that would only increase if the League’s best road team were able to steal a game (or two) in Sunrise.