The Capitals wrapped up a third consecutive Metropolitan Division title, but somehow feel free of the Stanley Cup expectation burden that so often derailed their best chances in years prior. Maybe it's because the Presidents' Trophy finally belongs to someone else.
Alex Ovechkin and Co. are in the playoffs for a 10th time in 11 seasons. The Blue Jackets, meanwhile, are in search of their first series win in franchise history.
Washington Capitals (-175) vs. Columbus Blue Jackets (+145): Schedule, picks, predictions
Game 1: April 12 at Washington, 7:30 p.m.
Game 2: April 15 at Washington, 7:30 p.m.
Game 3: April 17 at Columbus, 7:30 p.m.
Game 4: April 19 at Columbus, 7:30 p.m.
*Game 5: April 21 at Washington, TBD
*Game 6: April 23 at Columbus, TBD
*Game 7: April 25 at Washington, TBD
(All times Eastern; * If necessary)
Regular season meetings: WSH, 4-3 (12/2); WSH, 3-2 (2/6); WSH, 4-2 (2/9); CBJ, 5-1 (2/26)
Brandon Schlager: For my money, this is the most difficult series to predict, the biggest toss-up. On one hand, you want to believe in the Blue Jackets, one of the NHL's strongest second-half teams. They're young, deep and finally get a chance to prove themselves away from a Penguins death trap in the first round. Sergei Bobrovsky can't really be this bad in the playoffs, can he? On the other, this might be the last chance for the Capitals. A highly motivated Ovechkin isn't someone to bet against, and he's played this season — one of the best in his career, factoring in age and that the roster around him isn't quite as good — like a man on a Stanley Cup mission. Both teams have a lot to prove. In the end, I think the captain takes over and tips the series in the Capitals' favor.
Capitals in 6 games
Evan Sporer: While there are plenty of questions centered on the Capitals' crease, it will be very interesting to see which Bobrovsky shows up. In the past two postseasons for the Blue Jackets, he's stopped a combined 348 of 388 shots, or an .897 save percentage. Very excited to watch the Ovechkin line against Seth Jones and Zach Werenski. Getting Nick Foligno back will be big for the Blue Jackets, but still don’t think they have enough depth or firepower up front to keep up with the Caps in what should be a very tight series.
Capitals in 7 games
Jim Cerny: Two teams with poor post-season track records. The Caps can't get past the second round in the Alex Ovechkin era, and the Blue Jackets have never won a postseason series, not even after their 108-point season a year ago. But it's a new spring, and one of these teams must advance. Washington needs to figure out its goaltending. Braden Holtby is no longer the slam dunk No. 1 after backsliding during the regular season, but he is much more experienced than Phillipp Grubauer. Columbus has Sergei Bobrovsky who historically morphs from Vezina winner in the regular season to something much less in the playoffs. A key intangible is that outside expectations are much lower this spring on the Caps, and they may just be better flying under the radar. Plus this might be the core's last real whack at the Stanley Cup.
Capitals in 7 games