The Washington Capitals and the Pittsburgh Penguins are the two teams that are considered the favorites to win the 2016 Stanley Cup (source: bet365). However, they will meet in the conference semifinals following Pittsburgh’s elimination of the New York Rangers and Washington’s elimination of the Philadelphia Flyers.
Washington enter the series as the higher-seeded team following a franchise-high 56 wins on the regular season. They were a lock to win the Metro division long before any of the other eventual division winners were, and they have been the favorites for the Stanley Cup for quite some time now too.
However, Pittsburgh came on particularly strong late season, and they posted a couple of wins over Washington directly. Those wins included one at Washington and another lopsided victory in a game that Pittsburgh hosted. Over the last couple of months, the Pens went from mediocrity to the 2nd seed in the Metro to the second round with a realistic chance of advancing further.
Pittsburgh coach Mike Sullivan is already a major winner on the current NHL season. The long-time Assistant Coach in the NHL had limited head coaching experience entering the 2015/16 season, and he still does in many ways. However, he was named Head Coach of the Pens in December after Pitt fired Mike Johnston. Inheriting a struggling team, the fact that he has taken them to relevance and the 2nd round of the playoffs makes his season already highly successful as a Head Coach.
The same can’t be said about Barry Trotz yet. I’m not really a big fan of the Washington coach, mainly because of his lengthy tenure in Nashville that yielded no significant results. In this day and age of rapid firing and scapegoating the coach, Trotz survived for 15 seasons in Nashville because of the low-pressure environment in my view.
When it comes to Pittsburgh vs. Washington, my opinion is the same as it was when I wrote about the playoffs earlier this month:
“Should (Pittsburgh and Washington) meet in the second round, I think tons of pressure falls on both Alex Ovechkin and head coach Barry Trotz. Any kind of Pittsburgh lead in the series and self-doubt will surely creep in on the Washington side.”
The Penguins have Sidney Crosby in front of a strong supporting cast, and they have him healthy. For me, this series feels similar to the 2009 playoffs where Ovi and Crosby crossed paths, albeit with different teams, in a series that Washington had home-ice advantage in. That battle that was tight throughout but when push came to shove in Game 7, Pittsburgh stormed out to a 6-2 victory on Washington’s home ice. The Penguins would go on to win the Stanley Cup.
Scheduling for the second round is not currently available. However, this series will start later this week. The winner between Washington and Pittsburgh will face the winner of the Islanders and the Lightning, making the Washington/Pittsburgh series the Eastern Conference Final before the final.
Prediction: Pittsburgh in 6 or less.