The 2022 Stanley Cup playoffs are off to an electrifying start, and the series between the Florida Panthers and Washington Capitals is no exception. Each club has a win as the series shifts to Washington, with Game 3 coming up on Saturday (1 ET, ESPN).
To help get you ready for the game, we've put together a guide on all the key players to watch for each team, including in-depth statistical insights from ESPN Stats & Information, as well as paths to victory for each club, courtesy of Kristen Shilton and Greg Wyshynski. Shilton and Wyshynski also give their final score predictions.
The Stanley Cup playoffs return to ESPN networks in 2022: ESPN and ESPN2 will be broadcasting first- and second-round games, with one conference finals series on ESPN and the Cup finals on ABC.
Leading playoff scorer: LW Carter Verhaeghe (two goals, one assist)
Path to victory: Game 1 was a disaster for the Panthers. The best goal-scoring team since the 1995-96 season looked ineffective and frustrated against the Capitals, who clogged the neutral zone defensively. Game 2 was the moment when the Panthers relocated their swagger, jumping their expected goals from 2.17 to 3.77 at 5-on-5, game over game.
I don't think there's any putting the genie back into the bottle, even with the Capitals getting the last change on home ice. Florida made its adjustments and looked like that regular-season juggernaut again, the one that seemingly scored at will. If they get the same kind of above-average netminding from Sergei Bobrovsky to go with that offense, they'll be up 2-1 at the final buzzer.
Insights from ESPN Stats & Information:
The Panthers have used a balanced attack, with 12 different skaters hitting the score sheet, led by multi-point outings from Aleksander Barkov and Carter Verhaeghe, to tie the franchise mark for the most different players with a point in a postseason game (also 12, in Game 1 of the 1996 conference quarterfinals).
However, Florida has struggled on the power play so far in the postseason. They are 0-6 on power-play opportunities, and the last time they didn't have a power-play goal in three straight games was back in January. The Panthers finished the regular season with a 24.4% power-play percentage, which was fifth-highest in the NHL, but they are currently one of three teams without a power-play goal this postseason (Stars 0-7; Kings 0-8).
Jonathan Huberdeau assisted on Florida's second goal of the game in Game 2, and boosted his career playoff total to 17 points. He's now tied for second on the Panthers all-time playoff points list with Dave Lowry, one behind Ray Sheppard.
Before the postseason began, Aaron Ekblad hadn't played a game since March 18 due to a lower-body injury. But, in Game 2 he scored his first career playoff goal in his 12th career playoff game.
Sergei Bobrovsky owns a 14-24-0 postseason record, and has lost nine of his last 11 decisions. It's quite early, but his 2.02 goals-against average is on pace to be his best GAA in a single postseason of his career.
Path to victory: Washington absolutely needs better goaltending. Vitek Vanecek struggled to make routine saves while the Capitals spiraled to a 5-1 loss in Game 2. That won't fly against a Panthers team that boasts unparalleled depths of offensive talent that averaged over four goals per game in the regular season.
Once Washington can stop pucks going in its net, the other key to victory will be re-establishing some offensive confidence. Tom Wilson has been sidelined since early in Game 1, and the Capitals are missing that tone and swagger he brings. We know Washington has elite scorers and a stable of talent behind them. To take back a lead in this series, the Caps have to tap into their mental toughness and make the Presidents' Trophy winners (especially goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky) as uncomfortable as they did in Game 1. -- Kristen Shilton
Insights from ESPN Stats & Information:
Washington has lost three straight Game 3's, all of which came in the first round of the playoffs. The Capitals also aren't great at home this season, having a 19-16-6 record (.537 points percentage). That is the worst home record among the current playoff field, and they are one of six teams in the league this season that had a worse points percentage at home than on the road (Coyotes, Kings, Senators, Canadiens and Penguins being the others).
The Capitals have scored a power-play goal in three straight games (27.3% power-play percentage in that span), after going 0-18 on power-play opportunities in the previous five games, which was their most power-play opportunities without a goal this season.
Three of four active Capitals players lead the franchise in playoff career game-winning goals: Alex Ovechkin (10), Nicklas Backstrom (7), and T.J. Oshie (6).
Ovechkin has recorded a point in six of his last seven playoff games dating to the 2021 postseason. He has 71 career playoff goals (tied for 16th all-time) and 137 career playoff points, which is third most among active players (Sidney Crosby has 195, while Evgeni Malkin has 176)
The Capitals are much more productive when Ovechkin is on the ice this season. Per Stathletes, they average 19 more shots per 60 minutes and over two goals more per 60 when he's on the ice. He's the difference between the Capitals ranking first in the league in shot attempts per 60 minutes and 29th in the league.
Final score predictions
Kristen Shilton: Capitals, 4-3
Greg Wyshynski: Panthers, 6-4