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Penguins and Capitals begin third straight postseason showdown Thursday

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The road to the Stanley Cup once again goes through the nation's capital for the Penguins, who are set to face Washington on Thursday night for Game 1 at Capital One Arena.

The Capitals, who grabbed top spot in the Metropolitan division in the regular season, will have home ice advantage, as the two team's will square off in the postseason for the third consecutive year.

"It's going to be a fun series," said an ambitious Phil Kessel on Wednesday.

This will be the fourth time in the past 10 years that the two will meet each other in the playoffs, with the Pens winning three of those series, including two without home ice advantage. 

"I think it's just making sure we have the right mindset going in," said Sidney Crosby about starting this series on the road.  "It's important in the playoffs to win on the road.  We did a great job last series getting to our game and finding ways to win on the road, and we'll have to carry that over to this series.  (Washington) is a great team and they play well at home."

The names of Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom still highlight the marquee for the series, but it has been the youth movement for the Penguins that have rallied behind the veterans in the familiarity of Washington and their style.

"I think anytime players are around other players that thave success, it is a great opportunity to learn for all of us," said Mike Sullivan.  "I think our young guys can watch how our veteran guys carry themselves, their approach, their mindset, their work ethic, their attention to detail and their willingness to control what they can do to be successful.  That's what it takes to win in a high stakes environment."

Nobody youngster has provided that high stakes spark quite like Jake Guentzel, who is fresh off of a four-goal performance in Game 6 vs. Philadelphia.  The sophomore has a combined 19 goals and 15 assists in 31 career playoff games, including eight points with four goals in last year's 7-game series with Washington that also began on the road.

"Learning from the veterans on this team has been key in development for me," said Guentzel after defeating Ottawa to close the regular season. "You are learning from the best in hockey on this team, and that trickles down to us. Having these kind of players to learn from is big."

Guentzel and Crosby lead the team with 13 points a-piece this postseason, while Ovechkin started his 2018 postseason campaign with a bang, scoring five goals with three assists, helping Washington rally from an 0-2 deficit and rattle off four straight wins to dispatch the Blue Jackets.

"He's definitely one of the better shooters in the game.  You just got to be aware of where he is on the ice," explained Olli Maatta of Ovechkin, who mustered just five points with two goals in last year's series with the Penguins.

"It's going to be a tough series," continued the defenseman.  "I think we know each other pretty well.  The core groups has been the [same] the last couple of years, so I think there's not going to be too many surprises, but it's going to come down to executing."

The Penguins, who have won 9 of 10 all-time postseason series against Washington, will have Matt Murray in the front of the net for the first time against the Caps in the postseason since 2016, as Murray missed the entire series last year due to a lower-body injury, leaving backstop duties to Marc-Andre Fleury.

On the other end of the ice will be Braden Holtby, who allowed 10 goals, stopping 137 shots in four games against Columbus, after regaining the starting nod over Phillipp Grubauer, who served as the Caps' goalie in Game's 1 and 2.  Holtby allowed 17 goals in last year's series with Pittsburgh, allowing two or more in every game. 

"It's going to be a big test for us.  They have a good team; one of the best team's in the regular season in the last couple of years," said Derick Brassard, who is one of the few fresh faces to this postseason rite of passage.  "They have a lot of guys that can make plays up front, and we expect their best.  If we can put a lot of pressure on them in the first two games, that would be good for us." 

Injury update

Both Carl Hagelin and Evgeni Malkin will be absent from Game 1 Thursday.  No timetable is set for their return, though they both skated in practice (without team) earlier this week.

"Guys have to step up in different roles.  I don't think anybody has to put too much pressure on themselves.  Those aren't guys that are easy to replace, but that's what we're faced with, so we have to make sure we find a way to come collectively together.

"I think we're trying to find complimentary skill sets- guys that have shown an ability to work together and be successful.  Based on that history, we're trying to make decisions that make us the most competitive."

After the moneyline

Oddsmakers opened the series price up with Washington (-130) favorites over Pittsburgh (+115) to win.  Currently, the public has bet the Penguins to a complete reversal, making them the -130 favorites and the Caps at +115. 

Game 1 odds          O/U
Pittsburgh  +105     6 (-115)
Washington -125

Every Penguins' postseason game this year has had the O/U set at 6 goals, marking the first time that has happened in NHL history.

Series schedule

Game #           Day                  Date                Time                Location

1                      Thursday          April 26            7:00 p.m.         Capital One Arena

2                      Sunday             April 29            3:00 p.m.         Capital One Arena

3                      Tuesday           May 1              7:30 p.m.          PPG Paints Arena

4                      Thursday         May 3              7:00 p.m.          PPG Paints Arena

*5                    Saturday          May 5              TBD                  Capital One Arena

*6                    Monday           May 7              TBD                  PPG Paints Arena

*7                   Wednesday     May 9              TBD                  Capital One Arena

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