The Highlights

  • The Washington Capitals (+157) can take a 3-1 series lead over the Pittsburgh Penguins tonight.
  • Are bettors backing the Penguins just because it’s a “must-win” game? 

The Washington Capitals can take a 3-1 series lead over the Pittsburgh Penguins with a win tonight at the Igloo. If it wasn’t for a five-minute lapse in Game 1, the Caps could actually be going for a sweep of their rival tonight.

At the time of writing, the Capitals are +157 around the market, according to the Action App. Those odds imply Washington has roughly a 39% chance of winning tonight. The Penguins, meanwhile, are -177. That number suggests Pittsburgh should win this contest about 64% of the time.

Going into this series, the script was that the Penguins would dominate possession, control scoring chances, and if they lost, it would be because Braden Holtby and the Capitals’ top shooters got hot. That isn’t how this puppy has played out, though.

In Game 1, the Penguins stormed back from a 2-0 deficit to win, 3-2. Under the surface though, it was a great performance by Washington. The Capitals posted a 59% Corsi For (which uses shot attempts at 5v5, adjusted for score + venue) and recorded five more scoring chances at 5v5 than Pittsburgh. In terms of expected goals (xG), the Caps generated 2.5 xG at 5v5, while Pittsburgh produced 1.72. It was an unlucky loss, one that fed into the “Washington can’t get past the second round” narrative.

The Capitals have won both games since Game 1, and while Game 2’s 4-1 scoreline flattered them, it was a close game under the hood. Washington’s 4-3 Game 3 win didn’t flatter the Caps. They were the better team and deserved the victory.

Three games is a small sample size, but the Capitals have looked like a better team since the playoffs started. They surprisingly controlled play in their series against the Blue Jackets and are still doing it against a superior Penguins team. It’s honestly a bit confusing; where the heck was this team all season long?

Tonight’s situation reminds me a lot of Game 3 between Vegas and Los Angeles in Round 1. People seem to be betting the notion that the Penguins can’t go down 3-1 rather than breaking the game down. This is a ‘must-win’ game for Pittsburgh and that attracts bettors like a moth to light. The betting percentages support that notion as 63% of the tickets are on the home team tonight, according to our live odds page.

Overall, the Penguins are the better team. They will win this game more likely than not, but ask yourself this question before tapping Pittsburgh just because you can’t imagine a world where they trail the Capitals, 3-1, in a playoff series: If this game is played 100 times, does Pittsburgh win 64?

I don’t see it and I’m grabbing the Caps at a great number.


Top Photo: Washington Capitals goaltender Braden Holtby defends Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Brian Dumoulin. Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports