NHL Eastern Conference Semifinals: Which Hero Will Rise?

Brian SausaCorrespondent IMay 1, 2009

As if the first round of the NHL Eastern Conference Stanley Cup Playoffs wasn't exciting enough, the second round gets even better. The heads of all NHL fans,Β  turn to Alexander Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby. Not only does Crosby help his Pittsburgh Penguins dispose of the Philadelphia Flyers in six games, but he gets to go on to face the rugged, hard-hitting sniper Ovechkin in the next series.Β 

Along that same line not only does Ovechkin lead the best line in all of hockey back from down 3-1 to the New York Rangers, but he also gets to lead his team into battle with the finesse-filled, pretty-boy Crosby starting Saturday afternoon at the Verizon Center. This is the type of match-up the NHL wanted, and you can tell as the referees did all they could to yank the previous series out of the Rangers' hands, but that's a whole other story.

Now we all predict for ourselves, "How will it play out?" Will the tough rugged Russian prevail over the shifty Canadian, or vice versa? This is the view I see of the upcoming series, and why I feel the advantage lies with the boys of D.C.

The Washington Capitals, who were 3-0-1 vs. Pittsburgh this year, have too much firepower for the Pittsburgh Penguins to handle. The aforementioned best line in hockey presents a challenge for the Pens that their defense cannot handle. Backstrom, Semin and Ovechkin lead the way for a Washington team thast went into Madison Square Garden in a must-win Game Six and made the Rangers look like a bad high-school team. The Penguins do have a better proven goaltender in Marc-Andre Fleury, who has played in the post-season before.

Washington is still riding the wave of rookie standout goaltender Simeon Varlamov. His career record is 4-0-1, all wins coming in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals, out-dueling Henrik Lindqvist of the Rangers. Nobody can really know how Varlamov will fare for the rest of the playoffs, but if there's one thing the Russian has its confidence.

The goaltending will not matter because Fleury is not as good as King Henrik and even though the Capitals struggled top score at times, they scored enough.Β  Aside from that first line, guys like Tomas Fleishmann, Sergei Fedorov, and Viktor Kozlov are too much for Crosby and Malkin to handle. Not to mention the top offensive defenseman in all of hockey, Norris Trophy candidate Mike Green.Β 

The Capitals are a recipe for disaster until there is a team that can score more than them, and the Penguins are not the team. I will say Capitals in six games unless Fleury can stand on his head for Pittsburgh. When you have the best player in all of hockey with other great players surrounding him like the Caps do, it's hard to beat four-out-of-seven times.


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