Series preview: (2) Washington Capitals vs. (3) New York Islanders
By PAT PICKENS
(2) Washington Capitals vs. (3) New York Islanders
Season Series: Washington won 2-0-2
The Caps and Islanders are old Patrick Division rivals but will meet in the postseason for the first time since 1993. Both teams missed postseason a year ago after first-round exits in 2013, but both teams are headed in different directions as the postseason commences.
Cap hits: Washington is a popular darkhorse to come out of the East, and it's because of the superstar tandem of Nicklas Backstrom and Alexander Ovechkin. The Great Eight netted 53 goals this season -- 25 on the power play -- and Backstrom posted a league-best 60 assists this season.
Contrary to past seasons, Washington has established depth along its blue line. John Carlson has quietly evolved into one of the best two-way defensemen in the game, and Mike Green recorded 45 points -- his most since 2010. Braden Holtby played in more games (73) than any other goaltender and recorded a .923 save percentage.
Islanders watch: The Islanders operate through John Tavares. The superstar center enjoyed a resurgent year after suffering a knee injury at the Sochi Olympics last February, posting a career-high 86 points and falling just one shy of the Art Ross trophy.
After dominating the season's first three months, the Isles crashed back to earth in the season's last two months, narrowly making it into the field of 8. Jaroslav Halak, who was so solid for the first half of the season, ended with a .914 save percentage and 2.43 goals-against average.
If two-way defenseman Travis Hamonic's lower-body injury is serious, the Islanders could be in trouble.
Series X-factor: Special teams. The Islanders enter with the worst penalty kill of all 16 playoff teams, and the Caps boast the NHL's best power play. Washington likely won't get many man-advantages, but if it cashes in on them, the Caps shouldn't have any trouble dispatching the Isles.
The Pick: Capitals in 5.
Too much Ovechkin, too much Backstrom, too many power-play goals.
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