Penguins-Capitals: The World Will Be Watching

jonathan staub@JStaubSportTalkCorrespondent IMay 2, 2009

DALLAS - JANUARY 23:  Eastern Conference All-Stars Sidney Crosby #87 of the Pittsburgh Penguins and Alex Ovechkin #8 of the Washington Capitals pose together during the 2007 NHL All-Star Skills Gameon January 23, 2007 at the American Airlines Center in Dallas, Texas.  (Photo by Dave Sandford/Getty Images for NHL)

The Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins open their second-round series on Saturday, and Gary Bettman is absolutely salivating at the amount of attention this matchup is going to generate.

The three best hockey players in the world will take center stage in this playoff pairing, and the media storm that will hit Washington and Pittsburgh will be unrivaled by any series in postseason hockey history.

"Looks like we're playing Pittsburgh," Washington coach Bruce Boudreau said after Washington’s game seven victory over the New York Rangers. "Welcome to the circus. It's going to be great for hockey and great for TV, too."

Sidney Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin meet for the first time in the playoffs, and oh yeah…the Art Ross Trophy winner, and Hart Trophy nominee, Evgeni Malkin, will be on the ice too.

The NHL has been dreaming about the potential matchup of Crosby and Ovechkin in the postseason since both took the league by storm only a few years ago.

Both players are the face of the league, and they have reached the pinnacle of their sport playing two entirely different games.

Between Ovechkin, the unparalleled goal scorer, and Crosby, the incomparable playmaker, you will not see two players play with more intensity than these two throughout this series.

As if the on-ice rivalry of Crosby and Ovechkin weren’t enough, Ovechkin continues to be the most popular man in town, as he will have to also contend with Crosby’s more than able sidekick Evgeni Malkin.

Malkin and Ovechkin have been engaging in an on-ice Cold War ever since the two were drafted with the first and second overall selections in the 2004 NHL draft.

Despite a bit of showmanship in the All-Star game, make no mistake about it, these two do no like each other.

These three players are the best in the world hands down. Crosby and Ovechkin have won the past two Hart and Art Ross Trophies, and Malkin is the current Art Ross winner as well as a nominee for the Hart.

Watching these three players will be something special. Hockey fans will be daydreaming about the memories these three are sure to create.

When this series is over, analysts will break it down in every single humanely possible way. The play of these three athletes will be scrutinized and examined from every which possible angle.

The winner of this series will be praised for their Hall of Fame play, while the loser will have to deal with the scrutiny that comes to falling to the other player.

The only thing that is certain is that we are in for a treat.

(2) Washington Capitals – Defeated the New York Rangers 4-3 in round one

Alexander Ovechkin…need I say more?

After a slow start, Ovechkin caught fire in the second half of the series against the Rangers, and currently has seven points this playoff year.

Alex the Great will lead a Capitals team that has advanced past the first round for the first time since their run to the Stanley Cup in 1997-98.

Washington was forced to do it in seven games, as they became one of the few teams in NHL history to overcome a 3-1 series deficit. The Capitals can ill-afford to fall into the same situation against Pittsburgh, as the Penguins have a far better arsenal of offensive talent.

That offense will be trying to beat the young prodigy Washington will deploy in the net.

Simeon Varlamov got the call in game two of the Capital’s first round series, and is showing no signs that he is ready to give up the reins.

Going 4-2, with two shutouts and allowing only seven goals in six games, Varlamov is playing like a goaltender with 10 years of experience, as opposed to just over 10 games.

The Capitals will only go as far as their recently turned 21-year old netminder takes them. Teammate Sergei Federov told Versus before the Caps game seven matchup with New York that he didn’t think Varlamov understood the pressure of a postseason game seven.

If that is the case, it should work out to Washington’s advantage, as the Penguins will certainly come hard at the young goaltender.

The man to watch outside the pipes is not the first Alex who pops to your mind when you think of the Capitals.

Alexander Semin could turn out to be the most important figure in this series. Where Crosby has Malkin, Ovechkin will need Semin to continue to grow into his own and continue his strong play from the first series.

Semin led the Capitals with five goals, which is also tops in the NHL, and eight points in their first-round matchup, and sits tied with Crosby one point back of Malkin for the points lead in the postseason.

Semin, who has a tendency to be streaky, will need to continue to crash the net and play hard around the boards, generating scoring chances for not only himself, but his teammates around him.

Another player to keep an eye on is Mike Green.

A Norris Trophy candidate, Green led all defensemen with 73 points, and will need to create some production from the blue-line as the Penguins have their own set of snipers who will be launching pucks to the net all series.

(4) Pittsburgh Penguins – Defeated the Philadelphia Flyers 4-2 in round one.

Sid the Kid seems to get better the higher the stakes become. The stakes may never be higher than they are now, as this series is about more than just Pittsburgh and Washington…it’s about Crosby and Ovechkin.

After last year’s loss ion the Stanley Cup Finals, you can rest assured that Crosby has made it a personal crusade to avenge that loss.

The player that may fly under the radar in this Crosby and Ovechkin circus is Evgeni Malkin.

The NHL leader in points also leads the NHL in postseason points with four goals and nine points; Crosby is a point behind with eight.

There is no better chance than now for Malkin to make a name for himself as a rightful challenger to Ovechkin and Crosby as one of the best players in the world.

There are no two players who look to be out for one another more than Ovechkin and Malkin when they are on the ice together.

Malkin had four multi-point games in the first round, and poised to crash the circus that is about to ensue.

The Penguins will deploy three very strong lines, and a fourth line that is skating well in the playoffs. Pittsburgh’s depth could expose a weaker Capitals defense, and if the line of Jordan Staal, Tyler Kennedy and Matt Cooke can play like they did against Philadelphia, it will be a long series for the Capitals.

There is no bigger factor for the Penguins' success in the first round than Marc-Andre Fleury.

Fleury has gotten stronger over the past two seasons, and single handedly stole the Penguins first round series win right out from underneath the Flyers.

If he can continue to play at this high level, Washington could find themselves struggling to put points on the board.

The Capitals struggled with the solid goaltender of Kind Henrik Lundqvist in the first round, and Fleury is not to far off from the Rangers’ netminder.

The one area that the Penguins have a slight edge against the Capitals is on the blue-line.

Hal Gill, Rob Scuderi, and Brooks Orpik are very physical defensemen who move the puck well, and can separate opposing players from the puck in the defensive zone.

The offensive firepower on the point could also play a factor as Sergei Gonchar, who had the game and series winner against the Flyers in game six, Kris Letang, and Mark Eaton all have a knack for finding the back of the net.



The key to this series will be special teams.

Washington was pitiful against the New York penalty kill; granted, it was tops in the league, converting at only an 18 percent rate.

The Penguins struggled on the power play as well, as they only converted on 4-of-32 attempts against Philadelphia. The Penguins were also sharp on the penalty kill, as they managed to hold the Flyers to only one goal in their last 19 power play attempts.

This game will feature a lot of open-ice play. This will amplify the power play attempts as every chance that comes will be crucial to success.

While everyone will be focusing in on Sid the Kid and Alex the Great, the most important matchup of this series will be between the goaltenders.

Both teams can score, and the goaltender who manages to survive the offensive onslaught of the opposing team will carry his team into the second round.

Coach Boudreau will not hesitate to pull Varlamov if things get rough. Jose Theodore has a good track record against the Penguins and you can expect the rookie netminder to be on a short leash.

We will only get one chance to witness the first postseason encounter of Crosby and Ovechkin, and you can bet your bottom dollar that hockey fans across the country will be tuning into this series.

This could also turn into a very good series, as both teams are deep offensively and know how to put the puck in the net.

The goaltending matchup favors the Penguins, and that will be a huge factor in some extremely hostile atmospheres.

The Penguins have been here before, but Washington has a lot of momentum after their monumental comeback against the Rangers.

The first 10 minutes of Saturday’s contest will be crucial. If the Penguins are to have any chance in winning this series, they are going to need to weather the initial rush of the Capitals and their home crowd and split the opening two games in Washington.

The atmosphere will be electric in every game of this series, and hockey fans around the country should be in for a treat when Ovechkin and Crosby hit the ice Saturday afternoon.


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