Penguins-Capitals Preview: Leonsis and Talent and Bylsma, Oh My!

WoooooSenior Writer IMay 1, 2009

PITTSBURGH - APRIL 17:  Head coach Dan Bylsma of the Pittsburgh Penguins answers reporters' questions at the post game press conference after Game Two of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals of the 2009 Stanley Cup Playoffs against the Philadelphia Flyers on April 17, 2009 at Mellon Arena in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)

Game One of the Eastern Conference Semifinals series between the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Washington Capitals is set to commence this Saturday afternoon at 1:00 PM on NBC.

If the game goes into overtime, not surprisingly, NBC will bail on the National Hockey League so as to not miss the heart-stopping action of a bunch of horses running around in circles for two minutes.

The game will switch over to Versus in the case of an overtime period, so as to not take away any air time from the Kentucky Derby.

I'd write a few more paragraphs about how big a joke NBC is when it comes to hockey coverage, but you are all quite aware of that by now, so on to the series.

To say that the Crosby-Ovechkin match up has been overused and overhyped to levels that not even the repetitive guitar parts of every song on a Nickleback album could fathom would be an understatement.

These guys are two of the best players in the world. They don't like each other. Their teammates don't like each other. Their mothers would probably pull each other's hair at an NHL end-of-season barbecue. You get the point.

If you want an in depth summary of Crosby-Ovechkin matchups or you want to read all about how two players will ultimately determine the outcome of this series, go to NHL.com.

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If you have ever actually watched a playoff hockey series, you know that two players does not a series winner make, or something like that.

There's no doubt that both Crosby and Ovechkin will ultimately play a huge role in the success, or failure of their respective team in this series.  However, to say that the matchup between two players will play such an integral role in the series that it will undoubtedly overshadow the impact of everyone else on the ice during the course of a best-of-seven game series is just foolish.

Bruce Boudreau, an effortless representative to stave off childhood obesity in the D.C. area, led the Washington Capitals to their first 50-win season in over 20 years and helped set a franchise record of 108 points during the 2008-09 campaign.

Capitals' owner Ted Leonsis phoned in to Gary Bettman's radio show in between bomb threats in his native Baghdad to say that he thinks "you're going to see playoff-style hockey, but with a little more offense." What a statement.

The only thing Leonsis is going to see more of as a result of this series is ticket sales and cheeseburgers, which he has undoubtedly been sharing with his head coach.

Aside from the star power that will be on the ice in this series in the form of Crosby, Ovechkin, and Malkin, there are a few things that the Penguins have which the Capitals do not.

An in-shape head coach aside, the Penguins have a proven playoff performer between the pipes in the form of Marc-Andre Fleury.

The Caps have a hot hand in rookie goaltender Simeon Varlamov.

If you think Simeon Varlamov is a proven playoff performer because he posted two shutouts and led his team back from a 3-1 deficit against the New York Rangers, you're kidding yourself.

The guy is obviously talented—you don't win playoff series if you're not.  However, a 15-shot output from the Rangers in Game Seven of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals series hardly provides a true test of a young goaltender's big-game ability.

Varlamov could have gone back to Russia in the last 10 minutes of Game Seven against the Rangers and still picked up the 'W', because New York failed to muster a single shot on goal.

Another advantage that will likely tip the scales in the Penguins' favor is the third-line matchup.

Tyler Kennedy-Jordan Staal-Matt Cooke has been one of the most effective third lines in the National Hockey League since the beginning of the regular season, and continued their success in the first round against the Flyers.

Jordan Staal made Jeff Carter look like a seven-year-old girl trying to uproot an oak tree with her bare hands when he was in the offensive zone.

Tyler Kennedy turned off of the wall and fed centering passes to the front of the net with ease and also potted two goals in the series.

The Capitals know all about what Matt Cooke brings to the table.

The Caps' third line of Matt Bradley-David Steckel-Brooks Laich is inferior in both talent and physicality to the Pens' third line.

One similarity between the two teams is the underrated nature of their respective defensive corps.

Everyone knows how nasty Mike Green is, especially on the power play, but his partner Tom Poti and Milan Jurcina both offer big slap shots from the blue line to go along with big bodies in the defensive zone.

One thing people like to talk about when it comes to playoff matchups is history.

This year's meeting between the Pens and Caps will be the eighth such meeting in the history of the two franchises. Neither team has faced another team more times. That last sentence is one of the most confusing sentences is the history of modern language.

The Penguins are 6-1 all time against the Capitals in the playoffs, with Washington's lone series victory coming in 1994 in six games.

History is a fun thing to look at, but it means virtually nothing when you're talking about the playoffs.

The last meeting between the two teams in the post season occurred in 2001, when the Pens won the series 4-2.

Needless to say, both teams have undergone complete overhauls since 2001.

The hype surrounding this series makes the battle of David vs. Goliath look like a staged fight on an elementary school playground.

Ted Leonsis has no idea who David and Goliath are.

There are rumors swirling around the blogosphere of the Washington Capitals' front office buying up tickets on Craigslist for the first two games of the series, and even going as far as posting "fake" tickets to the games so as to prevent Penguins' fans from picking them up.

Given Leonsis' track record, this doesn't come as much of a surprise. This comes from the same front office that blocked the 412 area code from their telephone lines in an effort to prevent Penguins' fans from attending games in D.C. last season.

Caps fans won't believe that last sentence, but a quick Google search will prove your doubts wrong.

The Penguins-Capitals rivalry has always been present in the Eastern Conference, but it has grown by leaps and bounds since the arrival of Crosby and Ovechkin to the National Hockey League.

The two fan bases don't like each other. As I already established, the players don't like each other.

Alex Semin showed his distaste for Sidney Crosby earlier this season by asking the media "what's so special about Sidney Crosby?"

While Crosby once again finished in the top three in the NHL in points and broke the 100 point mark for the second time in his career, Semin struggled to break in to the top 20 in the points race and finished the season just shy of 80 points.

Oh, and how many Stanley Cup Finals has Alex Semin been to?

If you're a Penguins' fan and you don't hate Alexander Ovechkin, you will by about the 10-minute mark of the first period of Game One of this series.

And if you're a Capitals' fan, that's a good thing, because it means Ovechkin is doing his job.

While Ovechkin will likely post somewhere in the ballpark of 10 shots on goal per game during this series, and he will likely score at least his fair share of big-time goals, keep in mind that it takes a 19-man effort to win a hockey game on any given night—something that the Capitals' skeptics in Pittsburgh will have a hard time believing until they see it.

Let's Go Pens.

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