Penguins and Capitals not a regular game
Penguins forward Sidney Crosby shakes hands with Capitals forward Alex Ovechkin following Game 7 of last seasons's Eastern Conference semifinal at the Verizon Center in Washington.
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It could have been watching Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin swap hat tricks in Game 2.
Or the overtime winning goals scored by Kris Letang, Evgeni Malkin and David Steckel.
Or maybe the work of Semyon Varlamov, the rookie goalie who looked so good, so often. For six games, anyway.
But no, Matt Cooke decided, the most memorable moment from the Penguins' seven-game series with Washington in the second round of the playoffs in May had to be Marc-Andre Fleury's glove save on an Ovechkin breakaway three minutes into Game 7.
That save prevented the Capitals from grabbing a 1-0 lead in the deciding game and gave the Penguins the opportunity to earn what developed into a 6-2 victory and a berth in the Eastern Conference final.
• Game: Washington Capitals at Penguins, 7:38 p.m. today, Mellon Arena.
• TV, radio: FSN Pittsburgh, WXDX-FM (105.9).
• Goaltending matchup: Brent Johnson for Penguins. Jose Theodore for Capitals.
• Penguins: Will be trying to win consecutive home games for first time since Dec. 12-15. ... RW Bill Guerin has four goals in past 10 games. ... Are 24-9-1 when getting 30 or more shots.
• Of note: Have won four games in row and seven of past eight. ... D Mike Green has points in nine consecutive games. ... Power play is NHL's most lethal, with conversion rate of 25.1 percent.
• Hidden stat: Capitals have outscored opponents, 59-33, during first period.
It wasn't an easy call, though. Considering all the possibilities, it was a lot like trying to single out the best-looking snowflake in a blizzard.
"I'm sure that was the most entertaining series the NHL has seen in a very long time, as far as pace and style and goals and goaltending," Cooke said. "Everything. That was probably the most entertaining hockey there's been for a long time."
Few who were part of -- or witnessed -- that best-of-seven likely will disagree.
Even though the stakes won't be nearly as high when the Penguins and Capitals meet at 7:38 tonight at Mellon Arena, it won't simply be one of 82 regular-season games, either.
Media outlets from outside the home markets of the competing teams will be well-represented this evening, and Washington arranged for Ovechkin and coach Bruce Boudreau to meet with reporters when the Capitals arrived in town yesterday, hardly standard procedure in mid-January.
"I think there'll be a buzz about this game that we haven't seen in a little bit," Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said.
Yeah, like since June.
That is because few, if any, other regular-season matchups in the NHL can offer such a blend of skill and passion and star power.
Crosby and Ovechkin are generally regarded as the two most prominent figures in the sport, and they have some pretty impressive supporting casts. Crosby's was good enough to win a Stanley Cup in 2009; Ovechkin's is producing a league-high 3.69 goals per game this season.
"They have some very, very, very gifted forwards," said Penguins goalie Brent Johnson, who played for the Capitals last season.
In a career that also included stints with St. Louis and Phoenix, Johnson fared well against the Capitals -- he is 4-0, with a 1.15 goals-against average -- but Washington has the personnel to do unspeakable things to those numbers in a matter of minutes.
Ovechkin is the most volatile element in the Capitals' lineup, of course, and needs just one goal to join Mario Lemieux, Wayne Gretzky and Mike Bossy as the only players in NHL history to get 250 or more in their first five seasons.
Doing damage control against the Capitals involves a lot more than trying to contain Ovechkin, however. Washington is the only NHL team with 10 10-goal scorers and three with 20 or more goals. No offense is more deep and diverse.
"It's great when different guys score big goals for us," Ovechkin said.
Important as secondary scoring is, though, the spotlight again will fall on Crosby and Ovechkin tonight. Just how hard the edge on their personal rivalry might be is hard to say. Both profess to respect the other's abilities -- and understandably so -- but both also are ultra-competitive.
Ovechkin said that "on the ice you don't have friends [on opposing teams]," while Crosby said that asking if he has a warm off-ice relationship with Ovechkin is "like asking me if I'm going to be best friends with five guys on the [Philadelphia] Flyers."
All of which enhances the excitement surrounding this game, even though it doesn't figure to have a profound long-term impact on either club.
"It's still a regular-season game," Crosby said. "You have to look at it like that. You have to kind of keep things in perspective."
And that is one thing, at least, on which he and Ovechkin can agree. Sort of.
"For us, it's like a regular game," Ovechkin said. "But it's a pretty big game."
First Published January 21, 2010 12:00 am