Capitals-Penguins Second Round Preview

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Capitals-Penguins Second Round Preview
(Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

The Washington Capitals face the Pittsburgh Penguins in the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

SEASON SERIES:

Oct. 16 at PIT: WAS 4 - PIT 3 The Caps found themselves down 3-0 less than two minutes into the second period, but scored four unanswered goals to win in the Igloo. This was the "I hit hard with everybody," game.

Jan. 14 at PIT: WAS 6 - PIT 3 Alex Ovechkin had two goals and an assist at the Caps fairly dominated the Penguins on their home ice. It was a physical affair, as Crosby left injured and Malkin cross-checked Ovechkin from behind.

Feb. 22 at DC: WAS 5 - PIT 2The NBC game where Ovechkin and Crosby had words in front of the Caps bench, Ovie pulled Crosby's helmet over his face and waved him 'bye-bye'. Fleury gave up five goals in 33 minutes.

Mar. 8 at DC: PIT 4 - WAS 3Shootout win for Pittsburgh. Crosby beat Theodore on the Pens final shot and Ovechkin couldn't beat Fleury. There were 10 roughing penalties in the game.
REGULAR SEASON STATS

WAS: 50-24-8-108, second in East, first in Southeast.

3rd in Goals Scored (272); 20th in Goals Against (245); 2nd in Power Play (25.2%); 17th in Penalty Kill (80.6%)

PIT: 45-28-9-99, fourth in East, second in Northeast.

6th in Goals Scored (264); 18th in Goals Against (239); 20th in Power Play (17.2%); 8th in Penalty Kill (82.7%)
FIVE KEYS TO SECOND ROUND SERIES

1) FORGET ANCIENT HISTORY

The Capitals are 1-6 all-time against the Penguins in the playoffs, all within an 11-year span from 1990 to 2001. The Caps won a grand total of one of those series, a first-round match-up after the 1993-1994 season.

The only time these foes have met in the second round was 1991, in the first of their playoff match-ups. The Penguins won that series and also sent the Capitals home in the opening round of the playoffs in 1992, 1995, 1996, 2000 and 2001.

But only one player, defenseman Sergei Gonchar, was involved in any of those series. Gone are Mario Lemieux, Jaromir Jagr, Olie Kolzig and Peter Bondra.

Washington took three out of four from Pittsburgh this season, including both games in Pittsburgh.

2) BATTLE OF THE STARS

Everyone knows the names. NBC and NHL executives are drooling to get this match-up on TV.

This series has the top three scorers in the league (Malkin-1, Ovechkin-2, Crosby-3) and six of the top 30 (Backstrom-9, Semin-19, Green-29).

There will be much to-do about the rivalry between Ovechkin and Crosby, and the apparent hatred between Ovie and Malkin.

Then there was Semin's comments about Crosby being boring, and you've got yourself the makings of a multi-night mini-drama.

While there seemed to be a peace brokered between countrymen Ovechkin and Malkin at this year's all-star game, there's no doubt the rivalry with Crosby remains: between the players, in the media, and amongst fans.

3) PROTECT THIS HOUSE

The biggest question facing the Capitals in round one was: What would they get from goalie Jose Theodore? The inconsistent netminder imploded in Game One and was replaced by coach Bruce Boudreau with then 20-year old rookie Simeon Varlamov, who had all but five games of NHL experience to his credit. He celebrated his 21st birthday between Games Six and Seven.

The rookie responded with two shut outs and a goals against average (GAA) of 1.17 and .952 save percentage (SV%) in six games against the Rangers.

No stranger to pressure-filled arenas, Varlamov led his Russian Super League team to the championships as an 19-year old, boasting a 1.62 GAA in 16 playoff games after backing his team in 44 games with a 2.45 in the regular season.

The Pens counter with Marc-Andre Fleury. He had a solid, if unspectacular, season with a 2.67 GAA and .912 SV%.

Against the Flyers in the first round he lifted his game, recording a 2.39 GAA and .922 SV%. He faced 40 or more shots twice and won both games, most notably stopping 45 of 46 Flyers shots in a crucial and close Game Four to steal a victory

4) KNOWING YOUR ROLE

While most of the media attention for the Second Round match up with Pittsburgh will be centered around the teams' mega-stars, the role players in this series figure to be vital to either team's chances of winning.

Washington must find more secondary scoring. Tomas Fleischmann, Eric Fehr and Brooks Laich had two goals combined in seven games in the first round.

While Matt Bradley and Tom Poti chipped in with two goals apiece against the Rangers, neither can be counted on to light the lamp on a consistent basis, and the Caps third line must crash the net and create chances.

The return of captain Chris Clark in Game Seven, due to the suspension of Donald Brashear, seemed to bolster the spirit of the squad. Clark provided a spark on the ice as well, registering a couple of hits in limited ice time. He did not score, but did drive to the net on several occasions, a task few Capitals—other than Laichseem to relish.

The Penguins third line of Tyler Kennedy, Jordan Staal and Matt Cooke will look to pressure the Capitals 'D' with a strong forecheck, as they did in their first round series against Philadelphia. The trio play a gritty, hard-charging style that is a stark contrast to the dynamic skills and skating ability of the Pens' primary lines. Kennedy had a goal and two assists in the first round.

The trade deadline brought veterans Chris Kunitz and Bill Guerin to the 'Igloo.' The pair add plenty of grit and experience to a team that played with too much finesse up front in the early part of the season. Oh, and it didn't hurt that Kunitz and Guerin already have their names stenciled into Lord Stanley's Cup.

5) BEHIND THE BENCHES

On Wednesday, not coincidentally the day after Pittsburgh found out they drew Washington in the second round, the Penguins announced that they were removing the 'interim' tag from coach Dan Bylsma.

Bylsma took over from Michel Therrien mid-way through the season and the team took off after that. They won eight of their first nine and barely slowed down, making a push from 13th in the conference all the way to the fourth seed in the playoffs.

Caps coach Bruce Boudreau has already proven in these playoffs he's not afraid to push some buttons to get his team going. Lifting the veteran Theodore and replacing him with Varlamov took intestinal fortitude.

Last season's Jack Adams award winner also seems to enjoy playing the chess game in the press, as he tweaked New York coach John Tortorella early in the series, had Ovechkin sit on the Rangers bench during a practice, and playfully boasts he doesn't even speak with his 21-year old netminder for fear of "screwing him up."

 

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