There’s no doubt ice hockey is a team game, and a great one at that.
But as the Flyers and Capitals prepare to do battle in a seven-game series, starting Thursday night in Washington (a 7 p.m. start on NBCS), there are a handful of undeniably important individuals whose contributions will determine who advances to the second round.
Here’sa brief look at the top players to watch as the series gets underway.
1. Alexander Ovechkin (Capitals, 71 points)
Ovechkin led the NHL with 50 goals this season and his scoring ability will put Flyers’ defensemen to the test. While the Flyers split the seasons series 2-2, Ovy scored just two goals in the four meetings, one in a victory and one in a setback. If theFlyers can hold the perennial All-Star to just two points in four games this series they’ll be quite a happy squad.
2. Shayne Gostisbehere (Flyers, 46 points)
Whether or not Gostisbehere wins rookie of the year, the young defenseman is certainly more interested in putting up similar numbers in the playoffs to the oneshe did in the regular season. Ghost broke several Flyers records for rookies and defensemen during the regular season playing in just 62 games. Will he rise to the occasion when the pressure is on, like he did leading Union College to a Frozen Four victory in college?
3. Braden Holtby (Capitals, .922 save percentage)
The Caps starting goalie compiled a ridiculous (and NHL record) 48 wins in 66 starts as compared to nine losses. And if you think it’s mostly due to Washington’s potent offense look at Holtby’s numbers. His save percentage is a solid .922 with 2.20 goals against–both in the NHL’s top 10.
4. Steve Mason (Flyers,.918 save percentage)
Mason’s numbers are mostly average, but his work down the stretch was thoroughly impressive. He made 12 straight starts as the Flyers closed the gap, passed four teams and clinched a playoff spot in the 81st game of the season.
5.Evgeny Kuznetsov (Capitals, 77 points)
To have more points as a member of the Capitals than Ovechkin — especially when he leads the NHL with 50 goals — is an impressive feat. Enter the 23-year-old Kuznetsov, who will play at center opposite Flyers’ Claude Giroux. The young gunslinger was fourth in the NHL with 57 assists and his slight of hand could be the series’ difference-maker.