Can Penguins close out Capitals in Game 5?

Can Penguins close out Capitals in Game 5?

The NHL’s best team over the regular season’s final month needs just one more victory to eliminate the best squad all year.

Should Pittsburgh take care of business in the nation’s capital this evening, it will become the first club to qualify for the Eastern Conference finals. The Penguins and Caps drop the puck at 7:15 p.m. ET in a must-win situation for Alex Ovechkin and company. Online sports book Bovada.lv gives the home outfit odds of -145 to extend the semifinals, while the visitors are listed as +125 underdogs.

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Following a regular season that produced a league-high 120 points, Washington finally seemed ready to discard the disappointment of past playoff appearances. Philadelphia provided a surprisingly stern test in the opening round, though, and Pittsburgh simply hasn’t been intimidated in the slightest. Mike Sullivan’s group carries a 3-1 advantage thanks to Patric Hornqvist’s overtime winner three nights ago.

Dive a bit below the surface, however, and you’ll find a variety of reasons for the Pens’ considerable success. Goaltender Matt Murray is 6-1-0 with a 1.81 GAA in place of the injured Marc-Andre Fleury. Hornqvist and Evgeni Malkin have joined Sidney Crosby in generating offense in times of great need. Don’t forget the defense either, which continues to stand tall in spite of Olli Maata’s (upper body) absence.

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The Caps aren’t enjoying nearly the same degree of balance. Evgeny Kuznetsov and Nicklas Backstrom must step up tonight to send the proceedings back to the Steel City. We suspect that they will, with usual suspects such as Ovechkin and T.J. Oshie taking care of the rest. Bank on the East’s No. 1 seed to widen the margin with a late empty-netter or two.

SATURDAY NHL FREE PICK: CAPITALS -1.5

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