|Pens to be without two key players at start of series vs. Capitals|
Pittsburgh has had great success against the Washington Capitals in the playoffs, but the Penguins will be challenged by the absence of a couple key players when the teams open a second-round series Thursday at Capital One Arena.
Center Evgeni Malkin, who led Pittsburgh in scoring in the regular season, and Carl Hagelin, a prime penalty-killer, have been ruled out for Game 1 because of unspecified injuries sustained late in the Penguins' first-round win against Philadelphia, coach Mike Sullivan said Wednesday.
"Guys have to step up in different roles maybe," Pittsburgh captain Sidney Crosby said Wednesday. "I don't think anybody has to put too much pressure on themselves. I think collectively we can find ways (to bridge the gap). Those guys aren't easy to replace, but that's what we're faced with."
Washington has one known injury. Forward Andre Burakovsky is out at least for the start of the Penguins series because of an undisclosed injury he got in the first round against Columbus.
The Capitals also have history working against them. They are 1-9 all-time in playoff series against Pittsburgh, including losses the past two seasons and in 2009. In each of those three years, the Penguins went on to win the Stanley Cup.
The Capitals don't find that discouraging.
"There's not a person in our locker room or on our coaching staff that doesn't want to play the Penguins," Washington coach Barry Trotz said. "It's probably fitting. We're actually quite excited about it. They're two good teams. They always have been, and you get another match. It's all good."
Washington sniper and captain Alex Ovechkin has repeatedly declared, "I can't wait," since just moments after the Columbus series, and he expanded on that Wednesday.
"It's just fun. That's why we worked so hard all year, to be in this position," Ovechkin said. "It's a big challenge for us, especially against Pittsburgh. It's always a rivalry, always lots of attention to the series, and it's fun."
Ovechkin, 32, who has never won the Cup or even reached the Eastern Conference final, figures the law of averages will catch up with the Capitals eventually and they will beat the Penguins.
"One day it has to happen," he said. "If we want to get success, we have to beat Pittsburgh and move forward. They're the most experienced team right now in the league. Lots of great players. It's a huge challenge."
The Metropolitan Division clubs split their four games during the regular season. Washington won the division, with Pittsburgh finishing second, five points back.
"I don't think they're going to change the way they play. They've done it all year long," Penguins winger Phil Kessel said. "I don't think at this time of the year you change much what you do."
While the Penguins are set with goaltender Matt Murray, who has won two Cups and had two shutouts in the first round, Washington will start off with Braden Holtby, a former Vezina Trophy winner who struggled at times during the season and lost the No. 1 job at the start of the playoffs before regaining it during Game 3 of the Columbus series.
"He's been professional," Trotz said of Holtby. "When we made the decision to start (Philipp Grubauer), (Holtby) was all in. He just said, 'If I get a chance to get in, I'm going to stop the puck for you.' ... When he got in, he backed his words up."