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Tale Of The Tape: Games Notes, Lines, Who To Watch For Capitals-Panthers Game 1

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Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin and Panthers defenseman Aaron Ekblad

The 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs officially kick off for the Washington Capitals on Tuesday, as they’ll drop the puck against the Florida Panthers for Game 1 in Sunrise.

Multiple lineup questions have turned into answers for both teams, as two key injured players will return for both clubs. Alex Ovechkin, who missed the final three games of the regular season with an upper-body injury, is 100 percent and ready to lace ’em up for Washington in Game 1. It’s a major positive for the Capitals, as Ovechkin led the team in goals (50) and points (90) with one of the best showings of his 17-year career. The 36-year-old also continues to make history going into his 14th career postseason appearance.

“They are very solid group of guys, best team in the regular season, but in playoffs, it’s going to be different,” Ovechkin noted. “It’s going to be different mindset, it’s going to be different speed, it’s going to be different battle level.”

CAPITAL TAKES: Ovechkin Wants ‘No Excuses’ As Capitals Face Florida In Round 1

Here’s what the Capitals lines looked like in their last two full practices. The team held an optional on Tuesday.

Alex Ovechkin-Evgeny Kuznetsov-Conor Sheary

Marcus Johansson-Nicklas Backstrom-Tom Wilson

Anthony Mantha-Lars Eller-T.J. Oshie

Johan Larsson-Nic Dowd-Garnet Hathaway

Martin Fehervary-John Carlson

Dmitry Orlov-Nick Jensen

Trevor van Riemsdyk-Justin Schultz

Meanwhile, for the Panthers, Aaron Ekblad is set to make his long-awaited comeback from a lower-body injury that held him out for the final 20 games of the season. Ekblad had 57 points in 61 games and was on the verge of one of the best years of his career before his ailment. It’s a key addition to an already-stacked Florida roster, as the Panthers’ top blueliner will be back to provide more offense and also shut down Washington’s top pieces.

Here are what the Cats’ lines have looked like, per Florida Hockey Now’s Colby Guy and George Richards:

Carter Verhaeghe-Aleksander Barkov-Anthony Duclair

Jonathan Huberdeau-Sam Bennett-Claude Giroux

Mason Marchment-Anton Lundell-Sam Reinhart

Ryan Lomberg-Eetu Luostarinen-Patric Hornqvist

MacKenzie Weeger-Aaron Ekblad

Gustav Forsling-Radko Gudas

Ben Chiarot-Brandon Montour

Both teams also have their Game 1 starters. Sergei Bobrovsky will get the call for Florida. Spencer Knight is the backup.

And after a lengthy debate and a lot of talk for both goalies, Vitek Vanecek has been named the No. 1 for the series opener over Ilya Samsonov. While neither could truly capitalize on the opportunity to be considered the full-time starter, Vanecek finished the year with better numbers than Samsonov.

READ MORE ON WHN: Capitals Have Figured Out Goaltending Situation — For Now

When it comes to players to watch, keep an eye on the top producers. Ovechkin finished as one of the league leaders in goals but also left quite a dent in Florida’s side this season with four goals and six points in three games, including a hat trick.

“We can’t give him any respect,” Radko Gudas told reporters with regard to playing the Great 8.

On the Panthers’ side of the tilt, keep an eye on Jonathan Huberdeau, who finished second in NHL scoring and had five points in three games against D.C. in the regular season.

“I think the key is playing in the O-zone. Smart puck decisions, really just not get turnovers. They are obviously an offensive team,” T.J. Oshie said. “They know how to create offense. So we just got to be hard defensively and not give them any free offense. Not turn over unnecessary pucks and kind of feed onto their transition.”

Puck drop is at 7:30 p.m. at FLA Live Arena. Florida enters as a favorite after a Presidents’ Trophy-winning season. Washington is an underdog after finishing in the second Wild Card spot after an inconsistent regular season. Still, neither team is fixating on the regular season now as the postseason commences.

“In the playoffs, anything can happen. So I think just knowing that and going into this as of right now the series is tied. Obviously, we believe in ourselves and we’re going to do everything we can to win the series,” Nicklas Backstrom said.

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