For the third straight postseason, it’ll be the Washington Capitals and the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Metropolitan Division semifinals.
“Here we go,” center Nicklas Backstrom declared after the Capitals eliminated the Columbus Blue Jackets in a 6-3 Game 6 victory on Monday night. The Penguins also won in six games, eliminating the Philadelphia Flyers on Sunday.
The Capitals will have home-ice advantage again for this edition of the postseason rivalry. They’ll have Ovechkin and Backstrom and Evgeny Kuznetsov and goalie Braden Holtby, as they have in the past two playoff battles. Which leads to the obvious question: How can this time be different for the Capitals, when so much seems eerily familiar?
“We knew that chances were [good] we’d have to go through them at some point. We’ve prepared well. We’ve used the year to better our team,” said Holtby, who was spectacular in making 35 saves in Game 6.
“I’m taking it head on,” he said of the pressure. “I’m a pretty confident guy. I’m comfortable in my own skin. I’m going to go in there and do the things I do, what the coaches ask me to do and do it at the highest level. That’s my plan.”
This was a monumental decision for the Jets, who hadn’t used a first-round pick on a quarterback since Mark Sanchez in 2009. It has happened only three other times in the common-draft era — Richard Todd (1976), Ken O’Brien (1983) and Chad Pennington (2000).
Darnold is the Jets’ highest-drafted quarterback since Joe Namath, the No. 1 overall pick in the 1965 AFL draft.
“He has a very high ceiling,” said general manager Mike Maccagnan, who scouted Darnold five times in person last fall. “That will play itself out over the spring.”
Coach Todd Bowles didn’t rule out the possibility of Darnold as the opening-day starter. Incumbent Josh McCown will go into training camp as the No. 1 quarterback, but that could change.
“We’re not going to throw him out there, but at the same time, we’re not going to hold him back, either,” Bowles said.
The other quarterbacks on the roster — Teddy Bridgewater, Christian Hackenberg and Bryce Petty — face uncertain futures. Bridgewater, who signed a free-agent contract in March, could be trade bait.