The NHL finally has gotten what it has been waiting for all these years. A series that will give a much needed jolt to hockey's place in the spectrum of North American sport. The super-star hype of this series will attract even those who view the NHL in the same light as professional soccer.
Alex Ovechkin, Sidney Crosby, and Evgeni Malkin on the same sheet of ice for between four and seven nationally televised games, depending on your cable provider. ESPN.com even covered the series on the front page today! Before the series has even started the NHL has reached heights that were previously unimaginable!
The question is, who will provide the most highlights?
As far as the three super stars are concerned, this is a match up of three hockey players with completely different style.
Ovechkin on his own, in my opinion, is the best all around hockey player. He takes the most shots, he is the most aggressive offensively, and he is the most physical.
Crosby is his own brand of player. He is a play maker. An original. He sees the ice like no player I have ever seen before. His passes are crisp and well calculated.
Geno, or Evgeni Malkin to those outside of Pittsburgh, is the hardest of the bunch to describe as a player. Even when he has a bad game, he manages to get a point in some way. He is always part of the play, mouth wide open, finding the open ice. He is more aggressive offensively than Crosby, and has a rifle of a slap shot.
Predicting that none of these three will have a bad series, the deciding factor will be goal tending. And the advantage goes, without a doubt, to Marc-Andre Fleury. He has been around the playoff block a few years in a row, but Simeon Varlamov must have done something right to keep the Caps away from elimination by the Rangers.
But the Rangers offense isn't loaded with the same caliber of fire power as the Penguins'. The biggest question mark of the series is: Will Varlamov be able to handle the pressure of the Penguins offense?
That brings up another giant question mark, though. Will the Penguins offense be able to get away from the along the wall, "pass, pass, pass, pass, pass, maybe shoot, pass, pass, pass, shoot" style that looks great when it is successful and equally awful when it fails.
The Pens need to up the offensive aggression if they want to win this series. Especially if Varlamov becomes over whelmed and gets edgy.
An advantage for the Caps, that the Penguins can erase with effort, is the physical factor. On any given day the Capitals are the more physical team, but Pittsburgh can match that by throwing the bodies of Brooks Orpik, Chris Kunitz, Matt Cooke, and Jordan Staal around; just to name a few.
Ovechkin will provide big hits for the Capitals all series long, but hard hitting Donald Brashear will not be back from suspension any sooner than game six.
Both the Penguins and the Capitals are strong defensive teams, but this is an area is see the Penguins having the advantage in. I am aware of Mike Green, Shaone Morrisonn, and Tom Poti. But the difference maker to me is Sergei Gonchar. He is truly the "quarterback" of that hockey team. Gonchar is a key player in this series that needs to step up and fulfil his roll under the playoff pressure.
Along with Gonchar on the blue line will most likely be Kris Letang, who is quickly becoming a young star. Rob Scuderi is an over looked X-factor on this defensive squad along with Mark Eaton, both of which are my unsung hero award winners for the Pens.
Both teams will have their problems, of course. The Capitals biggest problem will lie in between the pipes; Marc-Andre Fleury. If he creates problems for the Caps offense like he did for the Flyers offense, there will be very few ways for Washington to win.
The Penguins, on the other hand, absolutely cannot afford to turn the puck over. Yes, I am talking to you, Geno! Also, will the Penguins play to the Capitals physical game consistently? When they played to the Flyers physical game in the last series, they wore the opposition down.
Who will be the brightest star in this galaxy of talent? Who will be the sleeper? Who will be disappointing?
In the next week, those questions will be answered. And one day I will be talking to my son about the first time Sid and Ovie went head to head in the playoffs, just like when my dad told me about Terry Bradshaw and Roger Staubach clashing in the '70's.
One thing is for sure, after this series all "new-comer" fans had better strap up their helmets, because they will be hooked on hockey for the rest of their life.
This will be one to remember.
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