Penguins-Capitals: Pittsburgh Draws Washington in Second Round

Todd FlemingAnalyst IApril 29, 2009

PHILADELPHIA - APRIL 25:  Marc-Andre Fleury #29 of the Pittsburgh Penguins skates against the Philadelphia Flyers during Game Six of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinal Round of the 2009 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs  at the Wachovia Center on April 25, 2009 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Penguins defeated the Flyers 5-3 to win the series 4 games to 2.  (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

The Pens and newly-minted permanent coach Dan Bylsma were almost heading to Boston.

And then an 80-second Hurricane struck, leaving New Jersey in ruins and handing the NHL its dream matchup in Pittsburgh-Washington.

League executives have been salivating over this matchup for two years.

It is also a decent matchup for the Penguins, who likely did not want to face the Bruins just yet, although the Devils would have been an easier draw.  Nobody wants to face the scorching-hot Bruins until necessary.

For the winner of the Pens-Caps series, that will likely come in the next series, unless Eric Staal and the Hurricanes pull off another miracle. 

This series will feature three of the league's most-popular and highest-profile players (Sidney Crosby, Alexander Ovechkin, and Evgeni Malkin) as well as the sometimes overlooked Alexander Semin. 

This should be a great series. The offensive edge goes to the Penguins with the late season additions of Chris Kunitz and Bill Guerin, who is playing like he is 20 despite his 38 years. Jordan Staal has also stepped up his play and has been a workhorse so far in the playoffs.

The Capitals have the better defense, even though it is often overshadowed by the constant media focus on Ovechkin. It was their defense that delivered them against the Rangers after falling in a hole.

The big subtext of this series will be this year's MVP race between Ovechkin and Malkin.  Expect both players to really bring their A-game, going even harder than normal to show that they are most deserving of that honor. 

That will only be overshadowed by the Ovechkin-Crosby rivalry. These players don't particularly like one another, and have contrasting styles. Expect to see a plethora of articles pop up over the next two weeks arguing that one or the other player is better.

But I don't think any of those three players will decide this series. The biggest difference maker in this series will be the more playoff experienced Marc-Andre Fleury. I look for him to be more steady in net than Simeon Varlamov. 

The Penguins will need to step up their play from the first round. At times, they did not play with the edge or the intensity they will need in the second round. But, I like the Pens to win this series in seven games after falling into an early one game hole, primarily because of Fleury. 

Let the fireworks begin.