05.14.2009, 1:00 a.m. ET
As I sit in an empty Verizon Center, hoping the clean-up crew doesn't toss us out with the rest of the garbage, I'm wondering just how amazing this series was to witness.
Much like the players who were in the middle of the battle, it was hard, covering it on a day-to-day basis, to really appreciate all of what went on. The battles, the stars, the superlative performances ... it almost defies the ability to come up with another way to describe it.
I think Caps coach Bruce Boudreau said it best the other day -- the only way the series would have been better would have been if the Stanley Cup was on the line.
What stood out to me the most was how each teams' respective stars -- Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Alexander Ovechkin -- all took over games at one point or another. Ovechkin was brilliant, Crosby proved he's the best player in the world by playing that way every shift for seven games, but to me, the most impressive performance I saw was Malkin in Game 3. The way he took over when Max Talbot was added to his line was so good, he nearly dwarfed with that one game what anyone else did the rest of the series.
So now we have to look forward. Can the Penguins maintain this emotional level in the next round? Can Crosby continue to play the same way against Boston or Carolina when he doesn't have Ovechkin to drive him? Can Sergei Gonchar's right knee hold up for another round?
All those questions will get answered soon enough. We just witnessed some of the most amazing hockey any of us have seen in a very long time. Now that the stakes are higher, there should be even more great hockey to come.
-- Adam Kimelman
Gonchar in, Pens stick with 7 D-men, Caps lineup the same
05.13.2009 6:59 p.m. ET
Well, here we are for Game 7 and as both Adam and I predicted, Sergei Gonchar is in the lineup tonight. You didn't really think he was going to miss Game 7, did you?
As I also expected, the Penguins are dressing seven defensemen again so Gonchar won't have to worry about playing heavy minutes. Philippe Boucher is also in, so Alex Goligoski sits.
My guess is that Gonchar, who was paired with his normal D-partner, Brooks Orpik, on rushes during warm-ups, will play the power play and a little bit in even strength situations. Yes, he's good enough to quarterback the power play on a bad knee.
As for the Capitals, it'll be the same lineup as usual and the same lines. Any Donald Brashear fans hoping he would get in for this one are now sorely disappointed. You Michael Nylander fans are feeling some pain, too.
From the line rushes during warm-ups, here is what I expect:
Game 7. Does it get any better?
-- Dan Rosen
Boudreau: 'I feel I guess as good as you can feel'
05.13.2009 5:19 p.m. ET
The session in front of the Caps dressing room with Bruce Boudreau was as short as I expected, exactly two minutes and two seconds.
Before I get to what he said, I have to tell you what he did.
Barry Melrose, who is here with Steve Levy and an ESPN camera crew, was standing along the wall as Boudreau was walking by him. Boudreau stopped and embraced Melrose with a hug and mentioned how Melrose looked like he was getting a lot of sun lately.
Seriously, the guy has quite the tan going. It's kind of unreal.
"I fell asleep outside yesterday smoking a cigar," Melrose responded. "It was 80 degrees."
What a life. What an absolutely unbelievable life this guy has.
Anyway, let's move on to the pertinent information about Boudreau and the Caps. Boudreau said he's nervous, but they're "good nerves, exciting nerves."
"Obviously, it's a little nerve wracking, but I guess it's going to be like that for a lot of people in Pittsburgh and D.C.," he said.
He expects tonight to be as close as the first six games have been, which means don't be shocked if the game ends in regulation, but expect overtime.
"You've seen the first six games and we'll have to be better than we were in the first six games because they'll be better," Boudreau said. "The Rangers were better than they were in the previous six, so we'll have to be better."
I asked him if this Game 7 feels any different than the previous two because it's the second round and not the first?
"Nope," Boudreau said. "You're playing to advance and you're playing for your life. You're playing so you can practice tomorrow."
How about the dressing room now? What's it like in there?
"I don't know. I haven't been in the room," he said. "I assume that it's hyped up energy, pent up energy. I'm sure that's what you guys would be like if you were in there."
Is it a good sign that Hershey won last night?
"It's a sign and I'm fairly superstitious," Boudreau said. "I hope it's a good sign, but I'll tell (Bears coach) Bob Woods after whether it was a good sign or not."
-- Dan Rosen
Buzzing in the District
05.13.2009 4:40 p.m. ET
The media room is packed with people already. Yes, even grubby reporters can't wait for this Game 7 tonight. Everyone is here to work, but everyone is also a hockey fan and understands that they're lucky to get paid to be here.
It's the one thing about this business I will never forget. The moment that I do is the moment I find a new line of work.
I don't see that happening any time soon.
While standing in the corridor outside of the media room talking on my cell phone with my boss the Penguins all walked by me. They looked calm, cool and collected. Sidney Crosby walked with his head straight forward, focused.
In about 20 minutes, Bruce Boudreau will address the media one final time before the puck drops. You can read what he says right here in a little while.
-- Dan Rosen
A measure of hope for Washington's faithful
05.13.2009 12:56 p.m. ET
For you Capitals' fans out there, here's something to hang on to:
The Hershey Bears, Washington's AHL affiliate, beat the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins, Pittsburgh's AHL affiliate, in Game 7 of their Calder Cup Playoff series last night.
And, for a twinge of irony, the results of that series through six games at least coincided 100 percent to the results of this series between the Caps and Pens.
Hershey won the first two games on home ice, just like Washington.
Wilkes-Barre/Scranton won the next three games in a row, just like Pittsburgh.
Hershey beat Wilkes-Barre/Scranton in Game 6, though this on was in Hershey as the AHL has the 2-3-2 format, not the 2-2-1-1-1 that the NHL uses.
The series resumed last night in Hershey and the Bears won Game 7 by a 3-0 margin.
So, clearly the Capitals are going to win tonight, right?
-- Dan Rosen
Wait, is there a game tonight?
05.13.2009 12:46 p.m. ET
People keep talking about some sort of hockey game happening in the District of Columbia tonight. What's all the fuss about?
Oh, yeah, that's right. Now I remember.
Sorry, that was my poor attempt at humor.
As for the blog, well, it took a much needed day off yesterday to recover after a wild Game 6. We're back at it today for what I believe is the most hyped Game 7 since the 2001 Stanley Cup Final when Ray Bourque was going for his ring against the New Jersey Devils.
The contingent of media covering this series has grown exponentially, both on the local and national fronts, in the last two days. That's awesome to see.
I was with the Caps this morning. The good thing for them is they looked loose as can be. I didn't see one guy who appeared uptight or nervous.
Alex Ovechkin said he didn't even want to start thinking about the game yet. It's too early.
Bruce Boudreau isn't quite sure how anybody is going to react tonight, but he's curious.
"Some people say, 'Yeah, be real serious,' some people joke around," the candid and refreshed looking coach said. "I think it's to the individual and when it comes to tonight's game, no matter what you say or do, everybody is going to react the way their own body and mind has been programmed to react. It's an exciting night and yet, you don't want to make a mistake because you don't want to be the one who makes the final mistake. It's a tough deal."
Boudreau is getting a lot of credit for his team's ability to respond when the chips are on the table. He likened it to his approach on the golf course.
"You just wake up every morning, the sun is coming up and you're still playing hockey. How much better can it get?" he said. "I think some of it comes from golfing a lot. Really, if you let it hold on from one hole to the next in golf you're going to lose. So, you have to let what happened previously go, learn from it and play better."
This is only blog No. 1 of what will be a blog-filled day. Keep coming back for more.
-- Dan Rosen
And it's down to one
05.12.2009, 12:35 a.m. ET
I haven't been around long enough to weigh the historical significance of this Penguins-Capitals series, but I can say it's the most entertaining affair in quite a while. Back and forth games, overtime drama, superstars playing superstars, third liners scoring tremendous goals -- and now we get a Game 7!
"There was a lot of talk before the series started and it's everything it's made up to be," said Sidney Crosby. "Let's just say we're all not surprised it's going seven."
That we're going to seven has to be a major emotional jolt to the Penguins. They were confident that playing at home they could close out the series, but much like they did in the first round against Philadelphia, they blew their chance and have to go into enemy territory.
The only difference now is there's no final game to fall back on like there was against Philadelphia, so any hangover from Game 6 has to be worked off real fast.
"Our backs are against the wall," said Matt Cooke. "There's no carryover."
The adversity that comes with losing Monday night is just another helping of a meal this team seems to have been feasting on all season. Whether it was struggling through the dog days of the season, seeing their coach get fired and nearly missing the playoffs, to being down 3-0 in Game 6 against the Flyers.
They rallied from all those deficits to get to this point. Can they do it again?
"We've overcome some adversity and this will be a little bit more," said Hal Gill.
"If there's a group of guys capable, we know it’s the ones in that locker room," said Sidney Crosby "We believe the way we're playing is going to give us good resutlts. ... We had a good effort and it didn’t happen. We believe if we have that same effort, things are going to go our way."
-- Adam Kimelman
Green gets his Stealth stick, Gonchar out, Pens dress 7 D-men
05.11.2009 6:59 p.m. ET
If you haven't read it already, here is the story on Mike Green posted this morning. It details his struggles in this series and how some of them can be linked to his stick problems.
Well, I have just been told by Nate Ewell of the Caps' crack PR staff that through some scrambling and some quick thinking and good driving they were able to get Green the one Easton Stealth that he hadn't broken.
It's the one he used to set the NHL record for consecutive games with a goal by a defenseman. The Caps had it packed away to go up to the Hall of Fame, but they broke it out and got it up here. Green did not say anything to anybody about his stick problem until today. Had he, he probably would have gotten this stick earlier.
Nobody up here knows if he is going to use it, though. Remember, it has taken him four-plus games to get used to these new Easton S17 sticks he's using. Switching back now may not be the best thing for him to do.
Anyway, we're back up here in the Mellon Arena press box, but Adam Kimelman and I have been separated on the seating chart. I'm OK with the divorce, but I'd like the judge to decree he has to do the Game Box (Unsung Hero, Best Shift, etc.) for tonight.
I don't think the ruling is going to go in my favor.
As expected, Sergei Gonchar is out for Game 6. Pens coach Dan Bylsma has again elected to dress seven defensemen, so both Alex Goligoski and Philippe Boucher are in.
Judging by the line rushes I just witnessed, here is what I project the lines for tonight's game will be:
Enjoy Game 6!
-- Dan Rosen
TMZ impression and Green's sticks
05.11.2009 1:30 p.m. ET
Very interesting morning here at Mellon Arena, including my TMZ-like run for Alex Ovechkin as he and fellow Russian Alexander Semin were trying to duck the media today by leaving the arena early.
Nice try, Alex(s), but Tarik El-Bashir from the Washington Post, Jeff Klein from the New York Times and I tracked them down near the loading dock to the arena across from the construction site of what promises to be the new, grand arena for the Penguins.
We had to run a little bit, but the exercise was good. All that was missing is me holding a camera that would get a fuzzy picture for television.
Later on, Mike Green admitted that he is using a different stick than the one he used to score 31 goals during the regular season.
Green used Easton Stealths in the regular season, but he had only 15 of them and Easton discontinued the model. He broke his last one early in Game 1 of this series and has since changed to Easton S17s.
Stealths are soft and ultralight whereas S17s and thicker and heavier. Green said it has taken him a while to adjust to the new stick, but he said he felt good with it in his hands this morning. It should be noted he skated for quite a while, too.
Ironically, there is one of Green's Stealths lying around, the one he used to set the NHL record for consecutive games with a goal by a defenseman. The stick is targeted for the Hall of Fame, but it could be back in Green's hands if there is a Game 7.
Finally, here's the quote of the day from Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau, who was asked about Alexander Semin's struggles in this series:
"I have no idea what is behind them. We have tried a lot of different things and hopefully whatever we try today will help him play his best. If you could bottle up why players don't play the way they're supposed to be playing and why players play above the way they're supposed to be playing, please come and tell me and I'll market that."
-- Dan Rosen
Staring the hot sun of summer in the face
05.11.2009 11:26 a.m. ET
If you count the final game of the 2007-08 season, one the Capitals had to win to get into the playoffs, they are 6-1 in elimination games in the last two years.
Tonight is an elimination game.
"I just think it's the group of guys we have and they care a lot," Caps coach Bruce Boudreau said of why they've been so good in these situations. "When people care a lot they don't want to go home, they want to stay together. When you get into an elimination situation there is definitely some finality to it if you don't play your best."
Boudreau doesn't see much of a difference between the two clubs at this stage that would force him to completely alter the systems or the plan. He just would like to see his team go back to doing what it does best, which is getting pucks deep and dominating time of possession.
Amazingly, the Capitals have been outshot in every game of this series. During the regular season, they outshot the opposition 51 times.
"It's pretty basic what they're doing," Boudreau said of the Penguins. "They're getting more pucks deep in our zone than we're getting in their zone and they're controlling the play a little bit more. If we reverse that trend, they're getting second shots and we're not getting second shots. If they reverse that trend maybe we'll win another game.
"You have two teams that really want to win so the will is there in both teams and I think the want is there in both teams. Whoever executes the best is going to win."
The Capitals carried momentum into this series after winning the last three games against the Rangers, all elimination games. They won two straight against Pittsburgh before falling in the last three.
How do they get back to playing the way they were in their five game winning streak?
Boudreau says it's simple.
"By knowing that at 10 o'clock if we don't succeed we're on vacation and nobody wants to go on vacation," he said. "That's the desperation of a club that is on the brink.
"You have seen it in a few teams in the second round of the playoffs," he continued. "You saw it in Boston for sure yesterday. You saw it in Anaheim in Game 4 with Detroit knowing it would be very tough to come back if they had lost. You have seen it in Chicago. Now it's time maybe you see it from us."
-- Dan Rosen
Only Boudreau at Kettler, but lots to talk about
05.10.2009 12:55 p.m. ET
Bruce Boudreau gave the Capitals a day off today because they played three games in four nights, including back-to-backs on Friday and Saturday, and they have another game Monday night in Pittsburgh.
"That's four intense games in six days," the coach said. "What would going on the ice accomplish at this point?"
Fair enough, but Boudreau had to face a lot of questions about his team's play of late and his decisions in Game 5.
He still believes the Caps played their best game of the series Saturday night, but there are obviously things to improve on, such as their play in the third period. That's three straight games now that the Capitals have been outplayed in the third period.
Boudreau said he decided to put Sergei Fedorov on defense in the third period and overtime (I think he started using him after Matt Cooke's goal made it 3-2 Penguins) because the Caps needed some more offense.
Fedorov was paired with Mike Green, essentially created a power play unit for an even strength situation. It obviously didn't work as Fedorov got beat twice by Evgeni Malkin in overtime, one that led to a power play and the other that led to the winning goal.
"We needed a little more offense I thought, especially when a team is sitting back and not pressuring you," Boudreau said. "He is very good at moving the puck so we thought it was a better chance for us getting a goal with him playing defense."
Once again, Boudreau put Nicklas Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin on a line for Game 5 and the young duo combined for all three goals. You have to wonder why Boudreau wouldn't use Backstrom and Ovechkin together all the time in the playoffs like he does for most of the time in the regular season, but he had an answer for that.
He said it's about balance and added that it's easier to "load everybody up" when the Capitals are at home because the Penguins can't match them with the right trio because they do not have the final change. When the games are at Mellon Arena, Pittsburgh coach Dan Bylsma can get the guys he wants on the ice defending Backstrom and Ovechkin, so Boudreau thinks if he separates them it's a pick your poison type thing for the Penguins.
That being said, it's desperation time now for the Caps and I would not be surprised if Backstrom and Ovechkin are together again even though the game is at Mellon Arena.
Finally, Boudreau said it's unlikely that Donald Brashear gets in for tomorrow's game even though his six-game suspension ended after Game 5.
"It would be pretty tough I think to put him in at this point," he said.
I'm hitting the road now to get up to Pittsburgh. That's it for today.
-- Dan Rosen
Quiet morning in Pittsburgh
05.10.2009, 12:35 p.m. ET
First, a happy Mother's Day to all the moms out there -- sit back, relax and enjoy your day. And while you're at it, enjoy the playoff hockey today.
Not much was happening at Mellon Arena this morning. The players were given the day off, and the only ones at the building were there for treatment from the training and medical staff. That included Sergei Gonchar, who got to the building about 10:15 a.m. I'm no doctor, but Gonchar looked to have a slight limp, and there was no sign of any big, bulky knee brace. So does that mean Gonchar will be in the lineup for Game 6? I have no idea, and coach Dan Bylsma wasn't forthcoming with too many details.
"He's coming in and evaluating the situation," said Bylsma. "It's nothing more than that for us. He's here today and we'll find more out about him after his treatment. … I'm hoping that he improves and we can see him on the ice today, tomorrow, and we'll go from there."
If Gonchar can't play in Game 6, one option is dressing seven defensemen. Bylsma previously had said he wasn't a fan of that tactic, but he was won over after what he viewed as good performances from Philippe Boucher and Alex Goligoski.
The veteran Boucher blocked two shots in 13:03 of ice time, while Goligoski, a rookie called up from the AHL had two hits and one giveaway in 9:32 of action, including 3:14 in Gonchar's spot at the point on the power play.
"I liked the play of Alex and Boucher in the game last night," said Bylsma. "They both added what they are supposed to add and can add. I anticipate that if we go with seven that's what they'll do again. That's the kind of players they are and that's how we'll use them."
-- Adam Kimelman
Another dirty OT goal
05.10.2009 12:40 a.m. ET
Pittsburgh has won two of their three games of this series in overtime and both times the goal has gone off a Washington player.
In Game 3, Milan Jurcina was the unlucky Washington defenseman. Tonight, Tom Poti is kicking himself for just a bad luck play.
"Both of their overtime goals have been actually scored off our guys," Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau said. "It's an unlucky break."
But they're breaks the Penguins are earning because they're driving to the net and playing hard and simple hockey.
"You work hard for those breaks," Sidney Crosby said. "That's just hockey."
Crosby and Evgeni Malkin worked hard for their break 3:28 into overtime Saturday. They stayed on the ice for the full two-minute power play - and, yes, it was a tripping penalty on Milan Jurcina, who pulled down Malkin.
Crosby went straight to the net as Malkin made a power move around Sergei Fedorov, who was playing defense. Malkin tried to feather a pass across to Crosby, who I think would have banged it home had the puck gotten to him, but instead it hit Tom Poti's outstretched stick and went straight into the net.
Poti courageously came out to talk about the play in the locker room.
"Their guy coming in down the wall and I think he beat our guy wide," Poti said. "You know it's Malkin so you can't give him too much time and space and it became a 2-on-1 and I tried to go down and take the pass away and I tried to take away his angle coming into the net. He tried to make a pass and it went off my glove or my stick or something. Just a bad bounce, an unfortunate bounce.
"He's a guy who can make that play and score the goal so I don't think there's anything I'd do different. It's just an unlucky bounce and there's nothing you can really do about it."
The bad news for me is tonight was a marvelous hockey game, one that I kind of wish didn't end so soon in overtime although it has been a long 48 hours.
Adam Kimelman is on the road early this morning to catch the Penguins in Pittsburgh at 11 a.m. I wish him good luck and safe travels.
Interestingly, Boudreau gave the Capitals off Sunday and he'll speak to the media at Kettler Capitals Iceplex at 11. It's not really a surprise that Boudreau is giving them the day off tomorrow. Back to backs take a toll, and this will be three games in four nights.
We'll have much more tomorrow, but I think you've got enough to chew on for tonight.
-- Dan Rosen
No Gonchar, Bylsma elects to play 7 D-men
05.09.2009 7 p.m. ET
It's official. Sergei Gonchar did not skate in warm-ups and he is out for Game 5 tonight. That's actually not a surprise. Both Philippe Boucher and Alex Goligoski skated in warm-ups and surprisingly Penguins coach Dan Bylsma has decided to go with both tonight. He said he was thinking about it, and he came through on his word.
Pascal Dupuis is the odd forward out.
We'll see how this coaching move plays out, but I would think Goligoski is the swing man here and could take a couple of shifts at forward, too.
The rest of the lineups remain the same, but the Capitals lines looked drastically different in warm-ups. Bruce Boudreau swapped Sergei Fedorov and Nicklas Backstrom, meaning the young Swede will likely play center for Alex Ovechkin and and the old Russian probably will play center for Alexander Semin.
If that is the case, it'll be interesting to see if the swap gets the two Alexs going again.
Boudreau also had Boyd Gordon up on the third line and I believe he'll play center with David Steckel on the left wing and Matt Bradley on the right wing. Jay Beagle would then play center for the fourth line between Tomas Fleischmann and Chris Clark.
It's all speculative because you can never believe anything these coaches do during the playoffs, but usually the line rushes in warm-ups are spot on. Here is what I think we're looking at tonight:
-- Dan Rosen
Gonchar out tonight
05.09.2009 6:34 p.m. ET
It's official. Sergei Gonchar is not skating in warm-ups, which means he is out tonight. That's actually not a surprise. Both Philippe Boucher and Alex Goligoski skated in warm-ups, but we're not sure yet who is in. Both could play.
We'll be back with more soon.
-- Dan Rosen
Can the Pens win without Gonchar?
05.09.2009 5:49 p.m. ET
If the Pittsburgh Penguins are going to be without top defenseman Sergei Gonchar for more than just Game 5 of their series with the Capitals, can they win the series? Can they win the Stanley Cup?
The opinion from here is yes, they can win the series, but going much farther is in serious doubt.
The biggest hole Gonchar leaves is at the point on the power play. Without him for the majority of the season, the Pens' power play ranged from anemic to average, scoring just 40 goals in 57 games.
When he returned, there was an immediate impact, as they scored 22 power-play goals in 25 games.
The Pens are at their best when they use their speed in the offensive zone to draw penalties, but they need to be able to capitalize on those penalties. Even with Gonchar, their power play hasn't been good in the postseason, ranking ninth at 14.6 percent. In fact, of the eight teams remaining, the Pens are seventh.
Kris Letang, Mark Eaton, Evgeni Malkin all will see time at the point, but a player to watch is rookie defenseman Alex Goligoski who was called up Saturday morning from the AHL. Gonchar's injury allowed Goligoski to start the season in the NHL, and he responded by leading all rookie defensemen with 4 power-play goals in 45 games.
Goligoski has played just two NHL games since Feb. 1, and had been in the minors since March 3. While no one can fill Gonchar's shoes, Goligoski could be the best option.
-- Adam Kimelman
Short leash for Varly?
05.09.2009 5:24 p.m. ET
A couple of minutes ago Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau admitted that if the Penguins scored a fourth goal in the first period last night he would have pulled rookie goalie Simeon Varlamov in favor of Jose Theodore.
"It would have been decision time, especially with the back to backs, but they didn't and I think they only had one scoring chance, if any, in the second period," Boudreau said. "In the third period it was too late. We were in the game the whole way so I wasn't going to do it then."
You have to wonder how short of a leash Varlamov will be on tonight. It's really a must-win game and if he gives up two early in the game, Boudreau might look down the bench to Theodore, who hasn't played since giving up four goals on 21 shots in Game 1 against the New York Rangers.
In other news, the Capitals have been held to less than 30 shots on goal in six of their last seven games and have been outshot by a 209-171 margin in that span. Boudreau isn't too concerned.
"We're 5-2 in the last seven so that's really the big stat I think," he said.
And, that was about all from his pre-game gathering with the media outside the Capitals dressing room. There were no questions about Sergei Gonchar or Alex Ovechkin, which actually was rather refreshing. Then again, there were no local news stations there to ask those questions.
Boudreau and Brooks Laich were saying this morning that they are expecting Gonchar to play tonight, but I think that's highly doubtful, especially considering that his agent, J.P. Barry, told TSN today that he will miss several weeks with a knee injury.
-- Dan Rosen
05.09.2009 1:18 p.m. ET
Some of you may get on me for this, call me disgraceful and, as one reader suggested in an e-mail, that I should write for the A.O. fan club. I get it. Nobody liked seeing Sergei Gonchar go down last night at the expense of a knee-on-knee collision.
However, I have to take a stand here and say I do not believe that there was any intent from Alex Ovechkin to injure Gonchar. All you have to do is watch the replay to see what I mean.
What I see is two players going for the puck in the corner, each trying to poke it with their stick. Gonchar got to it first, so Ovechkin leaned the other way and led with his shoulder (partially his elbow, too) and tried to hit Gonchar.
Gonchar sidestepped to his left to get away from the hit and then it looks to me as though their right knees line up and bang, they collide.
One replay angle shows that Ovechkin did slightly move out his right knee, but you have to remember that when you're going in for a hit, you can't leave your legs behind. Your entire body follows you. Ovechkin was leaning to his right to hit Gonchar, so it makes sense that his right leg would move slightly, too.
However, Ovechkin's right skate never left the ice, which tells me he was not attempting to injure him. If he was trying to injure Gonchar, wouldn't he have lifted his leg?
Some may say that Ovechkin didn't want to make it look totally obvious that he was trying to injure him, so he didn't lift his leg up, but that's a conspiracy theory and you would have nothing to back up that argument with.
Also, if you look at the replays, when Ovechkin was being escorted to the penalty box - he was assessed a tripping minor - he kept staring over to the corner at Gonchar and he definitely had a concerned look on his face.
Ovechkin insisted Saturday morning that he tried to tell a couple of Pittsburgh players, namely Bill Guerin and Mark Eaton, that he did not intend to hurt Gonchar, it was an accident. He further expressed his innocence during his postgame press conference last night and again this morning.
Ovechkin respects Gonchar, his countryman. He also has no history of malicious, illegal hits. He even called a knee-on-knee hit "dirty" last night, but said that's not what he was trying to do.
I believe him. If you don't, that's your prerogative.
-- Dan Rosen
Uh, you all better change or else…
05.08.2009 12:35 a.m. ET
So, the Pittsburgh Penguins are 7-0 all time in Game 5s against the Washington Capitals.
Not a good stat for all you Caps' fans out there.
It could change, but…
Simeon Varlamov will have to bounce back in an incredible short span of time. He's never had to do it as an NHLer, so Saturday night will be a major test for the 21-year-old Russian goalie. It will be the first time he'll play back-to-back nights.
It also will be a major test for Mike Green because the Norris Trophy finalist had a forgetful night Friday. His turnovers and/or miscues played a role in the Penguins second, fourth and fifth goals in their 5-3 win. He has to be better.
Alex Ovechkin needs to find his normal form again because he was also limited Friday night. Ovechkin, who was clearly remorseful for his knee-on-knee collision with Sergei Gonchar, was held to two shots on goal Friday night.
He had no answer as to why.
The Capitals also better figure out their power play, because they're going to need it to beat the Penguins. They were 0-for-4 with only one shot on goal Friday night.
"It didn't go again tonight," Caps coach Bruce Boudreau said. "We'll go back and fix it again tomorrow. They make adjustments. We were 1-for-2 (in Game 3) and they made an adjustment. We were supposed to adjust to what they did, but we didn't do it. We'll go back to the drawing board and think of something else."
Captain Chris Clark, though, was more concerned with the Caps' 5-on-5 play.
"I think we're turning the puck over and they're a great team on our turnovers in coming back with speed," Clark said. "One of the things we have to limit is turnovers at the blue line. If we get the puck deep it's tough for them to come back at us. It's not that much, but it's really a big deal when you look at it in the long run."
Even through all of it, Matt Bradley somehow had the courage to say, "I think we played one of our best games of the series tonight, some good hockey."
However, he at least followed that statement by saying, "but you can't make those mistakes in the neutral zone against those guys. They're too good and they make you play. We have to concentrate on not getting caught."
Or they'll be down in this series in 24 hours.
-- Dan Rosen
Gonchar in or out?
05.09.2009 12:35 a.m. ET
As the Penguins flew to Washington early Saturday morning, the question flying with them was the status of top defenseman Sergei Gonchar.
Gonchar seemed to hurt his right knee on a collision with Alexander Ovechkin at 14:55 of the first period. The Penguins seemed to think supplementary discipline was warrented, but as a neutral observer, I was surprised there even was a penalty called on Ovechkin. I don't think there was any malicious intent, and I would be very surprised if there was any news from the League office prior to Saturday's game.
The hole in the Penguins' lineup without Gonchar -- who didn't talk after the game; coach Dan Bylsma said Gonchar was being examined by the team's doctors -- is huge. Philippe Boucher likely will get back in the lineup, but as Bylsma said, "I think in terms of replacing Sergei Gonchar, you don't get to replace 55."
The biggest casualty of Gonchar's loss likely will be the power play. Gonchar's first-period power-play goal was the Pens' only score on six man-advantage chances in Game 4. When Gonchar went out of the lineup, Bylsma used Evgeni Malkin and Mark Eaton in Gonchar's spot at the point.
"Maybe we have to simplify our power play a little bit more, maybe make an adjustment there," said Bylsma. "Other guys are going to have to pick up the load, and we have depth in that position for this reason. You can't replace (Gonchar), but we expect the guy going in and the lineup that we have will be able to get the job done."
-- Adam Kimelman
05.08.2009 7:06 p.m. ET
UPDATE: Crosby and Malkin start on same line
Not sure if this will last, but Dan Bylsma has elected to start Game 4 with Chris Kunitz on the left side of center Sidney Crosby and right wing Evgeni Malkin.
Yup, that's right, Crosby and Malkin together.
Could be something to watch tonight if it lasts.
-- Dan Rosen
Erskine, Beagle and Semin in for Caps, Pens stick with same lineup
05.08.2009 6:45 p.m. ET
For the first time all playoffs, Caps' coach Bruce Boudreau did not talk to the media at 5 o'clock before a game. Penguins coach Dan Bylsma never does.
Hey, that's OK. Really, what else are these guys going to say?
Neither would have released any lineup news and that's really the only pertinent information that we can get out of those 5 o'clock sessions. Granted, it's good for the local news stations to get their pre-game clips, but life goes on.
And, for us, all we have to do is watch warm-ups to get a good read on who is in or out. That being the case, I refer you back to the headline of this blog post.
Alexander Semin, who didn't skate this morning, is in. John Erskine is returning to the lineup tonight for the Capitals after missing the last two games of the series. Erskine played 18:19 in Game 1 but left with an apparent leg injury. Tyler Sloan played admirably for him the last two games, but he's got press box duty tonight.
As we already reported this morning, call-up Jay Beagle will be on the fourth line with Boyd Gordon and Tomas Fleischmann, who moves off the second line. Michael Nylander and Sloan are the healthy scratches and both Jeff Schultz and Eric Fehr are also out.
The Penguins will have the same lineup as they did in Game 3.
Here is what the lines should look like at the start. There are some changes for the Caps, such as the breakup of the Brooks Lacih-David Steckel-Matt Bradley line. Laich is going up to the second line, where he played a lot during the regular season.
Enjoy Game 4!
-- Dan Rosen
Fun with Max
05.08.2009 3:25 p.m. ET
It's hard not to like Pens forward Max Talbot. From this sensational commercial to just his daily attitude, Talbot is a joy to be around a favorite of both teammates and media. So it was nice to Talbot have a measure of success when he jumped up on Evgeni Malkin's line with Ruslan Fedotenko during Game 3. That group was highly successful, but Talbot wasn't sure what his role is.
When asked what he thought, Talbot paused and then said, "Good looks?" He then added, "The media needs to relax a little bit because I played a game and it went well. I obviously like playing there. I can bring some energy, defensive awareness. Hopefully we can have another good game tonight."
Talbot has played most of the series on the fourth line, but his chemistry with Malkin has been readily apparent. The two are close friends away from the ice. Talbot and Malkin were road roommates, and Talbot went out of his way to make Malkin feel welcome in his early days in the U.S.
"We were roommates for two years," said Talbot. "I know him pretty well. When he got here I was pretty tight with him, trying to make him feel comfortable, being hs friend. I think a friendship developed with him. I think it makes it nice for us to be together."
What do they do so well together?
"We're totally different players," said Talbot. "He has skills and I don't. I play defensively and he doesn't." Talbot was kidding about the last part, but something good seems to happen when they're together.
"I just try to get the puck down low and it opens up some space for him," said Talbot. "If I can drive the net … he's going to carry the puck in the neutral zone, and he knows that I don't want to touch the puck in the neutral zone so he's going to carry it. When we're in the zone I try to drive the net. In the defensive zone it helps him a lot because he knows I'm there because I can play down low. ... When we go in the defensive zone and I go down low, he can go to the wing and get some speed. I like playing with him obviously. For me, when I get the puck in the offensive zone I have an extra second because they're aware of him. Maybe I have one extra second to make the play, because I need that second, so it's nice for me."
Coach Dan Bylsma never reveals much in his press conferences about his lineup, but it wouldn't be a surprise to see Talbot on Malkin's right tonight.
-- Adam Kimelman
Caps recall Jay Beagle
05.08.2009 11:04 a.m. ET
The quick bit of news out of Bruce Boudreau's morning presser today was that the team has recalled wing Jay Beagle from Hershey and the general opinion is that he'll play tonight in place of Michael Nylander if Eric Fehr remains unavailable.
Boudreau, though, would only say, "I have my reasons, I can't divulge them," when he was asked why Beagle was recalled.
We're not 100 percent sure yet because the Capitals are not on the ice yet, but it's likely that Karl Alzner was returned to Hershey. The Caps obviously didn't need to carry nine defensemen and Hershey could use Alzner for tonight's Game 4 of its Calder Cup series against Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.
Beagle, who is 6-foot-3 and 210 pounds, gives the Caps more size on the fourth line than Nylander and he can also play his natural position on the wing. Nylander is a natural center, but he's not going to play that position over Sergei Fedorov, Nicklas Backstrom, David Steckel or Boyd Gordon.
Beagle, 23, played three games during the season and didn't score a goal on five shots. He has a goal, an assist and a plus-1 rating in seven Calder Cup Playoff games this season after registering nine points in 47 regular-season games with the Bears. If he plays tonight, it will obviously be his Stanley Cup Playoffs debut.
-- Dan Rosen
Boudreau likes his spot, demands equality
05.07.2009 5:25 p.m. ET
Confidence or cockiness? Your call.
When told that several of the Penguins' players believe they've controlled most of the play in this series and the only difference has been the scintillating play in net by Caps goalie Simeon Varlamov, Washington coach Bruce Boudreau offered this:
"They can think what they want to think, they're still down 2-1," he said. "It's about scoring at the right time. It's about making the big save. It's about coming through in the clutch. I thought we even had chances when we tied it up last night and in the overtime I thought we were taking it to them a little bit. You know, I really felt confident that we're going to score, but it didn't happen."
Boudreau still feels the Capitals are getting a raw deal from the referees. When asked, "What gives?" regarding the discrepancy in power plays - Pittsburgh has had 17 and Washington had nine - Boudreau got righteous about his goalie, who himself was called for slashing Evgeni Malkin late in the second period.
"We talked to the supervisors last series about protecting the goalie and (Sean) Avery punched Varlamov in the face," he said. "We talked after Game 2 about (Chris) Kunitz cross checking Varly to the face. Yesterday, Malkin runs into the goalie with no purpose; just comes in from the corner and barrels right into him. There is no protection of the goalies and I thought that was a big point. We have to reiterate that. The goalies need protection and when you retaliate from something like that - and it was a flick of the stick, it wasn't even a slash that we get called for. So, I mean, the 17-9 should be at least equal at this stage."
As far as the injury front goes, Boudreau said Tom Poti is "not injured, just sore," and Sergei Fedorov revealed that it was the butt end of Hal Gill's stick that caught him in the rib cage, but he's OK, too.
-- Dan Rosen
Pens practicing right now, Caps no practice today
05.07.2009 11:42 a.m. ET
The Pens are practicing as we speak at their facility about a half-hour out of town. Adam Kimelman is there. Lucky for me, I got to sleep in and get some laundry done this morning because the Caps decided against practicing this afternoon and instead will have a media availability at their hotel around 1:45 p.m. ET.
After reading some other news outlets accounts of last night's game and going over our own accounts, it's pretty fair to say that nobody felt Pittsburgh deserved to lose last night. The Penguins outshot the Caps, 42-23, and thoroughly outplayed them for the final 51:23 of the game.
You had to know that was coming. Pittsburgh was the desperate team and they played like it.
That being said, is it cause for concern that they completely outplayed the Capitals and still needed overtime to beat them? I'd have to say yes.
Washington played its worst game since, well, Game 1 against the New York Rangers. In my mind they outplayed the Rangers in Games 2 and 4, both one-goal losses. They got beat all over the ice last night and still had a chance to win the game thanks to Nicklas Backstrom's tying goal with 1:50 left.
The Caps talked after Game 2 that they have not yet played their best game of this series. They definitely didn't do that last night, but they still lead 2-1 and they have another chance to put the Penguins on the brink Friday night at Mellon Arena.
I'm going to try to get some of the Caps talking about all that later today. I'll also get injury updates on a couple of key players, including John Erskine and Eric Fehr, who both didn't play last night, but also Sergei Fedorov and Tom Poti.
It looked like Fedorov took the butt end of Hal Gill's stick into his rib cage in the second period. He returned for the third, but was a non-factor. Poti has been battling sore groins all throughout the playoffs and he played a ton of minutes last night. I'd like to know how that affected him.
-- Dan Rosen
Steckel gives credit to Crosby for faceoff win
05.07.2009 12:55 a.m. ET
David Steckel is a stand-up guy and the Caps third-line center admitted he was beaten cleanly by Sidney Crosby on the faceoff that set up Kris Letang's overtime winner 11:23 into the extra session Wednesday night.
"I had been switching up all night of how fast I go down and whether they set up first or I do and I decided to go in there and wait for it," Steckel said. "I kind of knew that he was going to just come in with a swipe when he was ready. He just got underneath my stick and won it to the wall fair and square."
Crosby won the draw back to Mark Eaton, who slid a pass over to Letang for the one-timer that hit defenseman Shaone Morrisonn and went into the net.
Steckel said he heard Crosby talking to Eaton and Letang about where to set up.
"I saw (Crosby) talk about having the D slide over and it was tic-tac-toe, so I hope it was a set play," Steckel said.
Morrisonn called it an unlucky break, but he wasn't sure if the puck hit his leg or his stick. I tried to ask him how in the world he didn't know if it hit him (wouldn't he feel it), but he explained that it happened so fast that he didn't even have time to realize it.
"I couldn't even see it," Morrisonn said. "It was going through two guys and I think maybe if that doesn't hit someone Varly would be in position, but it happened so quick and it's just an unfortunate break."
-- Dan Rosen
No on Fehr and Erskine, yes on Letang and Satan; Lines right here
05.06.2009 7 p.m. ET
First off, Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin did not do line rushes together during warmups, so I don't think Dan Bylsma will have them on the same line to start the game, but it is something we're going to monitor.
Neither Eric Fehr nor John Erskine skated in warm-ups for the Capitals, so that means Tyler Sloan and Michael Nylander will be in the lineup tonight for Game 3.
Nylander hasn't played since Game 2 against the Rangers, but he should be on the left wing tonight with center Boyd Gordon and Chris Clark. Sloan played for Erskine in Game 2 Monday night.
As for the Penguins, Kris Letang took warm-ups and is going to be in the lineup again, paired with Mark Eaton. That is actually rather remarkable turnaround for the young defenseman who did not skate yesterday in practice.
Also, Miroslav Satan is back in tonight for the first time since Game 6 against the Flyers and he'll be playing for Petr Sykora. Satan will be on the right side of the fourth line with center Craig Adams and left wing Pascal Dupuis. That means Maxime Talbot will move up to the second line where he'll likely start with Malkin and Ruslan Fedotenko.
Of course, this could all just be more subterfuge.
This is what I think the lines and D-pairings will look like at the start of the game:
-- Dan Rosen
'We'll just have to watch'
05.06.2009 5:21 p.m. ET
The game of subterfuge continues here at Mellon Arena.
A few moments ago I asked Bruce Boudreau if Eric Fehr and John Erskine would skate in warm-ups and all the Caps coach would say is, "I guess we'll just have to watch."
Now, I know Fehr and Erskine are big parts of this club, but I highly doubt the Penguins are shaking in their boots on the other side of the arena wondering if each is going to play. It is Boudreau's right not to discuss injuries and his lineup, but man oh man, it's not like we're talking about Alex Ovechkin here.
Anyway, that's my little rant.
I watched Tom Poti walk into the locker room with the rest of his teammates as they came off the bus, and I could swear he was walking a little crooked. Poti has been bothered by sore groins and it looks as though they've flared up on him again.
"You know what, it's the playoffs and everybody has bumps and bruises," he said. "Tom Poti is fine and he's going to play, but if some part of your body isn't sore now than you're not competing hard enough."
I also wanted to know if Boudreau thinks Penguins coach Dan Bylsma will make a concerted effort to get Sidney Crosby away from David Steckel, Brooks Laich and Matt Bradley tonight.
As the home coach, Bylsma has the last change so there's a good chance that he will try to free up his big scorers, and that could include Evgeni Malkin, who may very well play with Crosby tonight.
"If he does, there is not much we're going to be able to do about it," Boudreau said. "We'll just see. I guess in the first 10 minutes we'll find out the strategies of both coaches."
And, what if Bylsma chooses to play Crosby and Ovechkin together?
"They're better, or at least their line is better," Boudreau said. "I'd rather Crosby play with (Pascal) Dupuis than Malkin. If he does he does. You know what, they play five or six shifts together all the time so they're very accustomed to playing with each other."
Boudreau also said that Donald Brashear did not make the trip because he is not yet eligible to play. He won't be until Game 6, if the series goes that far.
-- Dan Rosen
The ultimate quote
05.06.2009 3:45 p.m. ET
Here is one of the all-time greatest quotes comparing Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin, offered by Capitals owner Ted Leonsis and used in today's excellent column written by the esteemed Michael Wilbon of the Washington Post.
"Sid is the best white wine the restaurant has to offer," Leonsis said. "Alex is a Denver Slammer, a shot of tequila in a glass of champagne. You whack the glass so that the fizz is coming up and you just shoot it."
Basically, as Wilbon points out, Leonsis is saying Crosby is excellent and Ovechkin is a monster.
Very interesting stuff.
-- Dan Rosen
Are the Caps really containing Malkin?
05.06.2009 3:10 p.m. ET
The scoresheet would indicate that the Capitals are indeed containing Evgeni Malkin, who has no goals, two assists, a minus-3 rating and just eight shots through two games.
However, the Capitals feel they need to be better against the Penguins' No. 71 because they've given him far too many good scoring chances that he just hasn't buried yet.
"Look it, he had a lot of chances (in Game 2)," Caps coach Bruce Boudreau said. "Games in the playoffs don't end up 8-7. It might end up once in a blue moon, but if Sid gets three Malkin is not going to get three. I'm reading all these things about where is Malkin? He's playing pretty good. If he had put the three great chances that he had in last game everybody would be talking about how great he was. We got to do a better job of checking him. I don't think we're checking him well enough."
Caps center Nicklas Backstrom said they could have been harder on Malkin in the first two games.
"I think we've been doing an OK job against him, but I think we can do a little bit better against both Crosby and Malkin," Backstrom said. "It's something we have to work on and try to be better at."
"We have made a pointed effort to make sure he doesn't command so much space coming up the ice because he's just so good in open space, but I think we can do a little bit better," added defenseman Brian Pothier. "He had some pretty good chances to score and we have to do a better job of making it tougher on him and boxing out Crosby in front."
The Crosby factor is understandable as he has scored four goals from directly in front of Simeon Varlamov. However, Malkin doesn't like to play that close in so his chances won't be as direct.
The Caps, though, believe he's gotten a few too many even though he is goalless.
"We limited the goals, but not his scoring chances," captain Chris Clark said. "He's had plenty of scoring chances and he's been playing very well, but the focus is on him scoring and he hasn't been."
-- Dan Rosen
Picks, sticks and other issues
05.05.2009, 5:30 p.m. ET
The Pens were pushed out of Mellon Arena -- or maybe I should say clotheslined out -- because the WWE traveling circus had come to town. That meant practice Tuesday was at Southpointe, a rink about a half-hour outside of town in Canonsburg.
Anyway, a lot of the talk today had to do with the Capitals' perceived penchant for running illegal picks to free up players for shots, especially Alexander Ovechkin.
"It seems like it's been happening a lot of late," said Jordan Staal. "The five-on-three (in Game 1) and Ovechkin's goal. That's something we've been telling the refs is there and its something they're going to watch for."
Speaking of Ovechkin, one of the funnier exchanges of the day came between Penguins beat writer Rob Rossi and goalie Marc-Andre Fleury.
Here's the exchange in full:
Rossi: When a player can shoot the way Alex does, there's only so much that can be natural human strength and speed, that maybe sometimes a stick can be bent a certain way to move the puck. You ever concern youself with that?
Fleury: I'm sorry, can you repeat that?
Rossi: Is his stick legal?
Fleury: (laughing) You should have said that the first time. Keep it simple.
Rossi: Is he using an illegal stick?
Fleury: I don't know. Haven't really taken a look at it. The puck kind of sticks to it pretty good.
Rossi: Would you be surprised if he was?
Two other items of interest. First is no real update on defenseman Kris Letang who appeared to injure his shoulder late in Game 2. Coach Dan Bylsma refused to comment on Letang's status for Game 3 Wednesday, saying "it's a strength issue and nothing more than that."
Second, Chris Kunitz will not be suspended for his apparent cross-check to the head of Capitals rookie goalie Simeon Varlamov. Kunitz left Southpointe before the media was allowed in the locker room, but Bylsma said he wasn't surprised by the decision to not suspend Kunitz.
"Chris is going to the net trying to create a loose puck and jam home a rebound," said Bylsma. "We have no other intention than that. For me, it was a battle and he was in there tight and making contact with the goalie. I don't think there was any other intention than to create a loose puck."
That's it from Pittsburgh. More tomorrow from the morning skates. Enjoy the games tonight!
-- Adam Kimelman
Ovechkin mad, Caps content, I'm tired
05.05.2009 2:46 p.m. ET
OK, none of you care about the third part of that headline, so let's just focus on the first two.
Here is my story that has just been posted on Alex Ovechkin's thoughts regarding what he believes was an ill-advised cross check from Chris Kunitz to Simeon Varlamov's neck right before Sidney Crosby scored his third goal Monday night.
Clearly Ovechkin is angry and feels the need to defend his goalie. The fact is that Kunitz will not be suspended by the League for the hit. I'm sure Ovie will have a few things to say about that when we meet up with him and the Caps at Mellon Arena tomorrow morning.
As for the rest of the day here at Kettler Capitals Iceplex, well let's just say the Capitals don't want anybody thinking they're overconfident right now.
"I hope we're not going to be lulled into a false sense of security because we haven't really played well and that's the biggest thing for us," defenseman Brian Pothier said. "We've had timely goals and great goaltending but as a team we haven't played nearly as well as we can and I'm sure Pittsburgh is pretty frustrated by that because they have been playing well and they just haven't been able to score. We can not think for one second that we've been dominating this series because it's far from the truth."
That's a pretty firm statement don't ya think?
Pothier is right, though. The Caps have played well enough to win, but they can still do better. They can limit the retaliatory penalties and play better with the puck. They still turned it over far too much in Game 2 even though they were better in Game 1.
"They may be making us not as good as we think we are," Caps coach Bruce Boudreau said. "Sometimes you have to realize that they're good and not to be too hard on ourselves."
As for an answer to Sidney Crosby, who is showing all kinds of guts by going to the front of the net to score goals, well Boudreau said there just might not be one.
"First of all the last goal he got was a 6-on-4 so you can't cover everybody," Boudreau said. "The first goal he got was a power play. We can be more cognizant of where he is, that's what we can do, but if he wants to go there, short of taking a penalty every time, he's going to go there. The one thing about Sidney that I've seen is he's got the courage to go to the spots that make people great scorers. If you've got the courage to go there you have to move him out physically and you have to watch how you do it or you're going to get penalties."
On the injury front, both John Erskine and Eric Fehr did not skate today. Both are traveling with the team, but are listed as day-to-day. We'll know more tomorrow, but at least defenseman Tyler Sloan proved he's capable of filling in for Erskine.
"He was great, didn't miss a beat," Boudreau said. "It just goes to show you why Hershey is up 2-0 (in their Calder Cup Playoffs series) and why they ended up first in their conference. They've got great players down there and we'll not hesitate to use any of them at any time."
I wonder if one will be coming up if Fehr can't play, or will Boudreau go back to Michael Nylander?
-- Dan Rosen
Did you know that Fehr and Letang got hurt
05.05.2009 10:50 a.m. ET
Gotta be honest here, I noticed Eric Fehr get crushed along the boards by Ruslan Fedotenko in the first period and I saw Kris Letang get run into the boards by Mike Green in the third period. However, amid all the postgame hoopla surrounding Alex Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby, I neglected to report that neither returned to the game.
Fehr played only three shifts totaling 2:09 and his status will be updated after today's practice. He is not practicing today and neither is John Erskine, who missed last night's game. I'll try to get on both today. If Fehr can't go in Game 3 we might be seeing the return of Michael Nylander in this series.
As for Letang, he left the ice hunched over late in the third period and did not return. Pittsburgh coach Dan Bylsma didn't reveal too much about what happened to Letang, but Adam Kimelman is in Pittsburgh now and he's on the case. If Letang is too hurt to play Wednesday, the Penguins can either insert Phillipe Boucher or call-up Alex Goligoski, who plays more like Letang than Boucher.
Another piece of information that got lost in the shuffle is that Tyler Sloan played a heck of a game in his playoff debut. Sloan, who played for the injured Erskine, had an assist on David Steckel's second-period goal and played 16:23. He blocked three shots and I can't remember one mistake that he made.
The Capitals set a franchise record with their fifth straight playoff victory last night, which of course means Simeon Varlamov set a franchise record for a goalie with his fifth straight playoff victory. Varlamov was brilliant again, stopping 33 shots.
Viktor Kozlov had a pair of assists to give him his first multi-point game of his playoff career. And, Nicklas Backstrom had an assist to give him a point in his fifth straight game.
I'm at Kettler Capitals Iceplex now.
-- Dan Rosen
Ladies and gentleman, kids of all ages, I think we've got ourselves a rivalry
05.05.2009 12:46 a.m. ET
Is it too much of a stretch? Maybe, but who cares about that right now.
Monday night's showdown between the League's two greatest superstars was a classic duel for the ages. As I'm sure you already know by now, they each completed hat tricks in the final five minutes of the game, but Alex Ovechkin one-upped his rival, Sidney Crosby, because his team won the game, 4-3.
A lot of the times matchups like the one we have here don't live up to the hype.
This one most definitely is.
If you were only a marginal hockey fan before tonight's game, you're probably convinced now that this is officially the most entertaining game on earth. You probably can't wait for Game 3 Wednesday night.
I can't. Heck, who really can?
Eat your heart out NBA. LeBron vs. Kobe is going to have to be something truly special to come even remotely close to matching the entertainment value of Sid vs. Ovie.
-- Dan Rosen
Sloan, Sykora are in; Lines; Boudreau on quick start, Varly and Ovie
05.04.2009 6:54 p.m. ET
Warm-ups just ended and rookie Tyler Sloan, not Karl Alzner, will play for John Erskine tonight on the Capitals blue line along with Brian Pothier. Prior to the game, Caps coach Bruce Boudreau said he was doubtful that Erskine would play and that he was day-to-day.
Erskine did not take warm-ups, but Sloan and Alzner did. Sloan surprisingly got the nod over Alzner, the Caps first round pick in 2007 who played in one game against Pittsburgh during the regular season. Sloan played 26 games for the Caps during the regular season, though none against the Penguins, but he brings a little more size and physical punch to the team than Alzner.
Sloan, who played for Boudreau in Hershey when the Jack Adams Award winner was still an AHL coach, is also 28 whereas Alzner is just 20, so maybe maturity factors in here, too. We'll find out after the game.
On the Penguins side, Petr Sykora is also going to play for the second straight game. Sykora did not play in Games 5 and 6 against Philadelphia, but he returned for Game 1 against Washington and played on the right side of Evgeni Malkin.
The lines and D-pairings for each team should look like this:
Ovechkin-Fedorov-Kozlov; Fleischmann-Backstrom-Semin; Laich-Steckel-Bradley; Fehr-Gordon-Clark
Morrisonn-Green; Poti-Jurcina ; Sloan-Pothier
Kunitz-Crosby-Guerin; Fedotenko-Malkin-Sykora; Cooke-Staal-Kennedy; Dupuis-Adams-Talbot
Gonchar-Orpik; Scuderi-Gill; Eaton-Letang
Here are some excerpts of what Boudreau had to say in his pre-game chat with the media:
"We'd like to get off to a quick start, but I think we'd rather finish better. If you get off to a bad start you still have time to correct yourself. If you finish poorly you usually lose the game. I mean, obviously we'd like to start better and people keep talking about that, but I think we lead the NHL in first-period goals so we can't be doing that bad a job."
"I think (the Penguins) are a real challenge all the time. We know that this is going to be a really important game and I'm still in the learning stage when it comes to Varly. We'll see how he handles it. I thought he settled down after a fairly soft goal in the first period last game and had a really good game. We'll see tonight."
"I've never seen a championship won by three guys or four guys. We've got 20 guys here and guys not playing and everybody has to contribute. If those guys don't contribute you're not going to have success. It's not difficult to shut down one guy, but it is difficult to shut down the whole team."
"All great players want to be in the pressure situations all the time. I think (Ovechkin) feels responsible when we win and when we lose because he's the leader of this group."
Enjoy the game!
-- Dan Rosen
Crosby by the numbers
05.04.2009 5:10 p.m. ET
In honor of my colleague Dan Rosen and his affection for all things Ovechkin, I must submit my John Kreiser-style Sidney Crosby by the numbers:
5- goals, in 7 games, this postseason, tied for second in the League
6- goals, in 20 games, he had in last year's playoffs
6- blocked shots this postseason, tying him for the team lead
7- all-time rank in Penguins playoff scoring, with 41 points in 32 games
17.2 - playoff shooting percentage, roughly triple Ovechkin's accuracy
29 - shots this postseason, or half of Ovechkin's total
61.7 - Crosby's playoff faceoff winning percentage, second in the League
-- Adam Kimelman
A.O. By the Numbers
05.04.2009 4:46 p.m. ET
Since he is one of the two biggest stars in this series, I wanted to post some pertinent information about Alex Ovechkin. So, here's a little By the Numbers for you, John Kreiser style:
95 - Shots on goal in playoff career
58 - Shots on goal in this year's playoffs (first in the League)
28 - Hits in this year's playoffs
17 - Assists in playoff career
15 - Career playoff games
9 - Career playoff assists
8 - Points through eight games in this year's playoffs
8 - Goals in playoff career
6 - Multiple-point games in his playoff career
6 - Takeaways in this year's playoffs
4 - Goals in this year's playoffs
4 - Points scored at Verizon Center in this year's playoffs
4 - Points scored at Madison Square Garden in this year's playoffs
4 - Plus rating in this year's playoffs
4 - Blocked shots in this year's playoffs
3 - First-period points in this year's playoffs
3 - Second-period points in this year's playoffs
3 - Power-play goals in playoff career
2 - Power-play goals in this year's playoffs
2 - Power-play assists in this year's playoffs
2 - Penalty minutes in playoff career
2 - Third-period points in this year's playoffs
2 - Game-winning goals in playoff career
1 - Multiple-point game in this year's playoffs
-- Dan Rosen
Interesting morning on the Verizon Center ice
05.04.2009 2 p.m. ET
The Penguins' morning practice was fairly uneventful. Coach Dan Bylsma wouldn't say which forward would play tonight between Petr Sykora and Miro Satan. Both worked with the second power-play unit and the second line, but the guess is Sykora will be in and Satan will be out. Just a feeling.
The only other note was a near catastrophe being avoided when Hal Gill tripped over the blue line, and as he rolled over, his stick bonked Kris Letang on the head. The stick caught Letang in the helmet, and he was OK, but it could have been a lot worst.
Lines remain the same as Game 1 which means:
There was an adjustment to the power play, with Bill Guerin replacing Chris Kunitz on the top power play. The Penguins need to get something going on the power play tonight; their groups are just far too talented to go four games without a goal.
Some offense from the wings would help, also. Through seven playoff games, the Penguins' defensemen have scored the same number of goals -- 5 -- as their wingers.
See you when the puck drops.
-- Adam Kimelman
Strange, surprising morning here at Kettler
05.04.2009 12:11 p.m. ET
Nobody, not even the Caps PR guys, expected to arrive at the Arlington-based practice facility this morning and see young defensemen Karl Alzner and Tyler Sloan. However, they did make the 130 mile drive Sunday night from Hershey, Pa. to Arlington Va. to join the big club as emergency recalls.
Obviously, Caps coach Bruce Boudreau was hiding something yesterday when he was asked about the health of some of his defensemen, namely John Erskine and Tom Poti.
While Poti told me that he didn't practice Sunday because he's nursing sore groins, he did tell everybody that surrounded his locker stall today that he was going to play tonight. Erskine, though, limped onto the ice this morning and after taking a few strides limped right back off.
I think he took a hard shot in the leg Saturday and clearly he's in a lot of pain. Boudreau wouldn't confirm that the big defenseman was out for tonight - questionable was the word he used - but I think it's safe to assume he won't be playing and one of the two young call-ups will.
The general consensus here is that it would be Alzner getting the tap on the shoulder from Boudreau. As the fifth overall pick in the 2007 Entry Draft, he is obviously the more highly touted of the two. One of his 30 regular-season appearances came against the Penguins this season whereas none of Sloan's 26 did.
"I have no experience in this type of situation," Alzner said after telling the large contingent of media around his stall that he did not know if he was playing tonight. "I'm going to just try to make sure I'm solid and keep pucks out of the net. I know all four of their lines are tough to play against. I got a chance to play against them one time. I know it's a pretty big deal here. I have seen how things have been going on TV and what guys have been saying. I am just here to blend in, not to be a difference maker."
"Karl played very well and everybody thought he should be here all year," added Boudreau.
We'll see later tonight if he plays. I think he will, but really, what do I know?
As for the other stuff here, status quo would be the way to go. There shouldn't be any changes up front and I expect the lines to stay the same as they were in Game 1.
That's it from Arlington this morning. I'm sure Adam will be posting about the Penguins soon enough. They're skating at Verizon Center at noon.
-- Dan Rosen
Alzner, Sloan practicing with Caps
05.04.2009 10:04 a.m.
A couple of surprise additions to the Caps' morning skate today as defensemen Karl Alzner and Tyler Sloan are both on the ice right now and have been recalled from Hershey of the AHL. It also looked like John Erskine limped onto the ice and then he limped right back off.
Both Erskine and Tom Poti did not practice yesterday. Poti is out there skating now, but with Alzner and Sloan the Caps now have nine defensemen here counting Erskine.
Neither Alzner nor Sloan played for the Hershey Bears last night in the Calder Cup Playoffs. They were listed as being sick, which was obviously quite dubious.
This is a very interesting development. Stay tuned for more.
-- Dan Rosen
Don't forget about this stuff out of Arlington…
05.03.2009 4:40 p.m. ET
Here is my attempt to clear out the notebook and officially close the door on Game 1 from the Capitals perspective:
The Capitals felt they did a good job limiting Evgeni Malkin in Game 1. The big Russian center had an assist, but only two shots on goal and he was a minus-1. He got beat on a backdoor cut by David Steckel that led to the first goal. He was also on the ice for Tomas Fleischmann's goal that made it 3-2, but Malkin was not at fault on the play.
"Every time he touched the puck we tried to get somebody on him, but to us he was not quiet," Steckel said. "He might not have had the chances he'd like, but we gave up some rushes."
Steckel won 6 of 7 faceoffs in the third period because he said he took a lot of them on his left side, which is his stronger side. He also believes the Caps started acting as a five-man, cohesive unit on draws in the third as they won 14 of 18 in all after losing 28 of the first 42.
"When I took that draw off the icing there (with 31.8 seconds left in the game) I saw all five guys battling hard," Steckel said. "We didn't get the puck up, but we got possession of it and we had a chance to. That's important because Pittsburgh and New York do a really good job of getting in on there right away and that's how they win draws. Those are one-on-one battles that we have to win and we did that."
For the second straight game the Caps had a poor start but survived. It's something they know they have to fix Monday night.
"I think it was a little bit of nerves," Tomas Fleischmann said.
"The key for us is even if we do kind of get outworked or outplayed in the first 10 minutes is to stay composed and we have managed to do that," Matt Bradley added. "But, we've done it to other teams, too. We came out a couple of games against the Rangers and dominated them in the first 10 minutes. You just have to weather the storm if it's happening to you, not get too far down hopefully and look for something to spark you."
-- Dan Rosen
Day 1 in Washington
05.03.2009, 4:25 p.m. ET
Just got into Washington this morning after missing Game 1, and thanks to Mike Morreale for holding down the fort in my absence.
Now, onto the Penguins practice today at Verizon Center. For a group that is down in a series for the first time this postseason, they're a pretty loose bunch.
At one point a blue rubber ball materialized on the ice and the players were shooting it at each other.
Hal Gill turned in the nicest shootout goal of the postseason during the Pens' routine close-of-practice shootout session, skating in backward on extra goalie Brad Thiessen, spinning and firing a little wrister from in close. It was the same move Martin St. Louis made earlier in the season, but when Hal Gill does it, it's worth noting. As were the bows he took as his teammates cheered. Maybe coach Dan Bylsma was watching and will make a note for the first shootout the Pens get into next season.
Also during the shootout, Evgeni Malkin was shooting pucks at players as they skated in, and Matt Cooke was laying down and trying to trip guys.
"I think the team is real confident here," said Max Talbot. "You can tell from the atmposphere in the room, no one's down. If we play that type of hockey for seven games, we'll be OK."
The Pens' power play remains an issue. They're in an 0-for-17 skid dating back to Game 4 of the Philadelphia series, and it's starting to become an albatross.
"We know it's been an issue for a little bit, but we're trying our best not to get frustrated," said Bill Guerin. "Maintain momentum with the power play. We know we're not going to score every time on the power play, but the important thing is to make sure you don't lose momentum in the game, make sure you don't lose confidence in it.
"That's one of the things we're trying to control, our emotions with the power play. If you get six power plays and you only score once, at least you got the goal. Chances of going five-of-six are slim and none. You have to stay positive about it. There's nothing else you can do. Work on it? Yes. Watch tape? Yes, of course. We're going to do everything we can to make sure the power play is better, while trying to keep our frustration level down at the same time."
The only other issue at practice was the destruction of a riser set up for coach Dan Bylsma's press conference. Midway through his first answer, one of the legs broke and the platform dropped a bit. No one was hurt, though.
Back to gear up for Game 2. One interesting note -- according to Sam Kasan, who is blogging this series on the Penguins' Web site, he heard a rumor Paris Hilton is staying at the Penguins' hotel. I'll do what I can to confirm that one.
-- Adam Kimelman
Wait, that guy over there can't skate
05.03.2009 4:15 p.m.
There is a public skate session going on right in front of me now on the same sheet of ice the Capitals use for their practices. Earlier today, more than just the handful of players I expected to be on the ice were out there for the Caps' optional practice.
Fifteen players in all, including the suspended Donald Brashear and the both injured players, Jeff Schultz and Brent Johnson, skated. Even goalie Simeon Varlamov skated, which was surprising considering he usually takes off days to rest.
The Caps that weren't out there were Alex Ovechkin, Alexander Semin, Sergei Fedorov, Mike Green, John Erskine, Tom Poti and Shaone Morrisonn. Brooks Laich didn't practice either, but he did some light shooting while wearing shorts, a t-shirt and sneakers.
As for the discussion after practice, obviously a lot of it centered around Varlamov and his surprising rise to superstardom after just seven career playoff games. I spoke with George McPhee after most of the media left and the story should be up soon.
One item that didn't get touched on in any of my stories today was the Caps penalty kill and their lack of power plays.
They held the Penguins without a power-play goal and only six shots on goal on five chances totaling the full 10 minutes. Meanwhile, the Capitals received only two power plays totaling 3:01 and they converted on a 5-on-3.
Bruce Boudreau and Alex Ovechkin both felt the Capitals deserved more power play opportunities.
"I didn't think they were disciplined, I just didn't think we got the calls," Boudreau lamented. "A minute before Erskine's call (tripping 12:22 of the third), they tripped (Matt) Bradley in the corner. A few minutes before that Ovie (Ovechkin) got interfered behind the net by (Kris) Letang and it wasn't called. I thought they definitely got the benefit of the calls last night. I think they are letting them play, but they let them play a little more than us."
That being said, the Capitals penalty kill did a wonderful job limiting Pittsburgh's super-skilled power play. With Erskine in the box and the Caps up by one late in the game, Washington did not let Pittsburgh settle the puck in the zone.
The Caps cleared it down the ice four times and held the Penguins to just one shot over the two minutes. On the Penguins' earlier power play in the third period, they had lots of puck possession time, gassing the Caps' PKers, but still managed only one shot.
"The perfect PK, yeah, you get clears and a lot of changes to keep everyone fresh," Boyd Gordon told me. "You don't want to get buried out there for over a minute, especially against them. That's where it gets dangerous. Once they get set up it's hard to get the puck back."
Special teams will be something to definitely watch in Game 2 tomorrow night.
-- Dan Rosen
A lot to read this morning with your coffee
05.03.2009 10:44 a.m. ET
It's raining here in D.C. (well, actually, I'm in Arlington now and it's raining here, too). I just got to Kettler Capitals Iceplex and I'm about 30 minutes early. The Caps are scheduled for an 11 a.m. ET optional practice. I do not expect Simeon Varlamov to skate, though there is a reporter and photographer here from the Washington Post that is doing a story on goalie masks and in my mind, Varlamov has one of the best.
His mask is painted on one side with the Hershey Bears logo and the other side with the Capitals logo. It speaks to how far this guy has come in such a short period of time.
As promised in the title of this blog, there's a lot to read this morning. You can check out my game story on the Caps 3-2 win yesterday at Verizon Center along with this story on Varlamov and the big save, another one I wrote on Alex Ovechkin's day and thoughts of his goalie, the new star of this series and how big David Steckel was in yesterday's game.
Mike Morreale, who took a train back north today and is celebrating his birthday, hit on all things Penguins. His sidebar on Sidney Crosby is linked into the gray box of the Ovechkin story. And, he also did this story on Pittsburgh's special teams, which did not get the job done yesterday. The Penguins were 0-for-5 on the power play and although they committed only two penalties, they were back-to-back, leading to Ovechkin's 5-on-3 goal.
-- Dan Rosen
Varlamov knows what this means
05.02.2009 6:55 p.m. ET
Asked if he was nervous before the series began, Caps goalie Simeon Varlamov shrugged his shoulders and thought back to the lone offday Washington coach Bruce Boudreau gave his team between Tuesday's Game 7 win over New York and Saturday's Game 1 against Pittsburgh.
"The reporters were hyping it up real good," the goalie known affectionately as Varly said through an interpreter. "The first day off I watched some TV, and Geez, I found out a lot about this series. But, I tried not to watch anything in the next two days, tried to forget and relax."
Job well done.
-- Dan Rosen
What they're saying about Varlamov
05.02.2009 6:45 p.m.
There's no question Capitals rookie goalie Simeon Varlamov will gain all of the major headlines in tomorrow's newspapers. Here's what players and coaches from both sides are saying about the 21-year-old Russian shot blocker following his impressive 34-save performance that led the Caps to a 3-2 victory over the Penguins in Game 1 of their Eastern Conference Semifinal series.
Pittsburgh forward Matt Cooke
"He's a big kid. He stays square to the puck. We just got to make sure we get traffic and throw as many pucks as we can at him. We saw enough games against the Rangers to know what he's like. He didn't surprise us with anything."
Pittsburgh coach Dan Bylsma
"From our perspective at the bench, there was a lot of bodies in front of us. You could kind of see that there was probably an open net. Then we saw the replay on the jumbotron. He made a spectacular save. There was an open cage and I think Sidney (Crosby) was on his backhand and he (Varlamov) put his stick back there and got it right on the goal line."
Washington coach Bruce Boudreau
"It was a great save (against Crosby). There's no doubt. Goalies are taught never give up. You look at all the great goalies that are in hockey nowadays. No matter where they play is, they never give up. They keep fighting. And that's the only way the (Martin) Brodeurs, the Tim Thomases and the (Roberto) Luongos look like they make great saves; it's because they never quit on the puck. It was obviously a turning point because they would have had the lead and we would have had to play catch up."
Washington center David Steckel
"That save (on Crosby) was awesome. That was the turnaround save for us. Because I thought up to that point they were really working us down low and we had no answer. (Varlamov) bounced back from, probably what he would say was a soft goal, so he did great tonight."
Washington forward Nicklas Backstrom
"Probably the save of the series. I don't know how he can get the puck, it's hard to say. It's amazing and that reaction he has all the time, that's pretty amazing of him. Hopefully he can keep doing it and we can win some games."
Washington center Brooks Laich
"I was stunned. I was like 'Oh my God.' I was amazed. I saw (Sidney) Crosby shoot and I was like 'Aw that's in,' but then (Varlamov) just reaches back and grabs it and the whole bench was like, 'Wow, that's our break, let's get going, we got to smarten up and play better.' Incredible."
--Mike G. Morreale
05.02.2009 6:15 p.m.
Well, you all saw it! What do you think? Personally, I felt it was the save of the Stanley Cup Playoffs so far and, really, who could argue.
It happened with 1:59 left in the second period and Penguins captain Sidney Crosby and wing Chris Kunitz barreling down ice looking to snap a 2-2 tie. Kunitz skated wide down right wing before sliding a pass across to Crosby, who redirected the feed into what appeared to be a wide-open net. But Capitals rookie goalie Simeon Varlamov somehow kept the puck from crossing the goal line when he reached behind his body with his stick. Crosby actually raised his arms as if to celebrate the goal but eventually realized he was stymied by the Russian sensation.
"Nine out of 10 times, I think Sid puts that puck is in the back of the net, but you got to give (Varlamov) credit," Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik said. "It was the difference in the game since the score was tied up at the time."
Fellow defenseman Mark Eaton was actually asked for the turning point in the game and, at first, he couldn't provide one.
"I don't think there was a play or one particular thing that turned the game around," Eaton said. "I suppose when they scored that power-play goal (off a 5-on-3), that gave them some momentum."
Then, I reminded Eaton of Varlamov's save.
"That was a huge save, it was a ten-beller and the game was tied at that point," Eaton said. "It would have been a huge goal. What can you do, you just have to tip your hat to him."
--Mike G. Morreale
Early goals for Sid and Alex
05.02.2009 02:03 p.m. ET
It didn't take long for Pittsburgh's Sidney Crosby and Washington's Alex Ovechkin to make their marks in their Eastern Conference Semifinal series -- both players scored in the first period of Game 1.
Crosby's goal came 4:08 into the game and gave the Penguins a quick 1-0 lead.
Bill Guerin made the play on the right boards at the red line, feeding Crosby as the Pittsburgh raced through the neutral zone. When Washington's Alexander Semin turned away from the puck at the Caps' blue, Crosby essentially wound up with a 2-on-1, with only defenseman Brian Pothier back.
Crosby raced into the zone, moved from the right to the middle and shot back to the right side from about 20 feet, beating Simeon Varlamov past the glove for his fifth goal of the playoffs.
Pittsburgh shut down Ovechkin for most of the first period, keeping him without a shot on goal until 9:24 remained in the first period. But after Dave Steckel's goal at 13:50 tied the game at 1-1, Ovechkin and his teammates seemed to find their legs.
Ovechkin rifled a power-play shot off the goal post at 15:55, blasted Matt Cooke with a big hit five seconds later and drew a penalty from Cooke for hooking at 16:15, giving Washington a two-man advantage for 59 seconds.
The Caps quickly made Pittsburgh pay when Ovechkin finished off a nice rotation passing play by blasting a shot from the lower left circle behind Marc-Andre Fleury for a 2-1 lead. Mike Green controlled the puck at in the high slot, and with Brooks Laich and Semin drawing the defense to the front of the net, Ovechkin had plenty of time and space to rip Green's perfect pass behind a helpless Fleury for a 2-1 lead.
Crosby finished the period with three shots on goal, while Ovechkin had two -- plus two more than were blocked and the one that hit the post.
Lines and D-pairings for Game 1, Sykora back in
05.02.2009 12:45 p.m. ET
Petr Sykora is back in the lineup for the Penguins to start the series against the Capitals. Here is what we think the lines will look like at the start of Game 1:
OK, the table is set, now go enjoy the game. Mike and I will be back on after the game to analyze and discuss.
-- Dan Rosen
Circus is set
05.02.2009 12:40 p.m.
Ladies and gentleman, boys and girls, step right up to the greatest show on ice beginning Saturday afternoon when the Washington Capitals host the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Semifinal series at Verizon Center.
First and foremost, let's set the record straight that it was Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau who became quit the marketer following his team's seven-game series triumph over the New York Rangers when he then tabbed his second-round series with the Penguins as "the circus coming to town."
"I could have said something else, but 'circus' came to my mind," Boudreau said on Monday. "Gong show - I don't know?"
Circus? Gong Show? What does it matter.
Alexander Ovechkin against Sidney Crosby, Alexander Semin versus Evgeni Malkin and Mike Green matching wits with Sergei Gonchar. Does it get any better?
There are many intriguing storylines in this series but the two that keep coming back like a bad habit occurred first in October and February. In the fall, Washington's Alexander Semin was translated as saying "what's so special?" about Crosby in an interview published on Yahoo.com. Then there's that incident on Feb. 22 at Verizon Center when Ovechkin appeared to taunt Crosby with a "bye-bye" wave of the left hand following a brief push-and-shove confrontation just near the player's benches.
Ovechkin said Crosby "talks too much."
"We're competitive," Crosby said. "Usually when we play each other, we both try to raise our games. I think that's typical of both teams in general. The goal is to win the series. It's not about me and him."
Still, if you'll recall, Crosby didn't see the need for Ovechkin's dismissive gesture during the Capitals 5-2 victory two months ago.
"I didn't like the way he was using his hands or the gestures he was making," Crosby said of the incident. "We're different people. That's just the way it is. Some people like his style. Some people like my style. That's why I think a lot of people find it interesting, because you have two guys who have had success pretty early in their careers and do it a different way or show it a different way.
"Do I wake up hoping to see Ovechkin fail? No, I don't. He's a guy I play against, and he's a great player, and we're competitive against each other. But there's an element there where the media puts us up against each other, and that's just the way it is."
Still, Penguins coach Dan Bylsma doesn't see the series hinging on Crosby vs. Ovechkin and neither do several of the Capitals players.
"We have to play a certain way," Bylsma said. "It's not going to come down to our star players playing better than their star players."
Capitals defenseman Brian Pothier feels this could be the type of series where those players not being discussed could make the difference.
"Everyone has been saying Ovechkin versus Crosby, Malkin vs. Semin and Green vs. Gonchar, and that's great but those guys are on the ice for half the game," Pothier said. "During the other half, the third and fourth lines, the power-play and penalty-killing units, the Boyd Gordon's, the David Steckel's and the Brooks Laichs' of the world will play a huge part in this series. Even though Ovie and Crosby will be a tremendous sub-plot, there's a much bigger picture."
Another interesting sidebar in this series will be specialty teams. The Capitals had the second-best power play in the League during the season with a success rate of 25.2 percent but the club finished 18.1 percent (6 of 33) in their seven-game triumph over the New York Rangers in the opening round. The Penguins' penalty-killing, meanwhile, clicked at 86.7 percent in the first round against Philadelphia after coming on strong late in the regular season to finish eighth in the League at 82.7 percent.
"I think this is a great series to watch from a fans' perspective and a great series to market from an NHL/media perspective," Bylsma said. "It certainly has that flavor where you can see, on any given night, a star could take over the game or do something spectacular. I think the highlight reels will be rolling throughout the series but, too often, especially in a series where there's two good teams matching up, there are underlining heroes who can show up on any given night. I anticipate that happening here as well."
--Mike G. Morreale
05.02.2009 12:20 p.m.
There are a few items I'd like to throw out there that might be worth watching over the course of Game 1 of this much anticipated series from a Penguins perspective.
Check it out…
* Sidney Crosby ranks second in these playoffs with a 63.5 face-off winning percentage, winning 99 of his 156 draws in six games against the Flyers.
* Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik leads the NHL in playoff hits with 31.
* Neither Evgeni Malkin nor Sergei Gonchar is familiar with Washington rookie goaltender Simeon Varlamov, who also is Russian. They did watch video of his sparkling play in Washington's opening-round series triumph over the Rangers, however.
* Malkin currently leads the NHL in playoff scoring with 9 points (4 goals) in 6 games. He has already won the Art Ross Trophy as the League's highest point-getter with 113 points (35 goals) in the regular season.
* Marc-Andre Fleury's 19 career post-season wins rank second in club history behind only Tom Barrasso (56).
* Pens power play in playoffs -- 12.5 percent (4 for 32).
* Pens penalty kill in playoffs -- 88.9 percent (3 for 27).
* Penguins wing Ruslan Fedotenko notched his first postseason goal in a victory over the Flyers in Game 6 on April 25 since posting a pair of goals in Game 7 of the 2004 Stanley Cup Final as a member of the Tampa Bay Lightning.
--Mike G. Morreale
Boudreau's pre-game update, a lot of goalie talk
05.02.2009 11:35 a.m. ET
Washington coach Bruce Boudreau just met the media in front of the closed door to the Capitals' dressing room. As we stood there waiting for him to come out, a few of us were mentioning how few people were there to talk to the coach compared to last series when the Rangers were in town and some folks couldn't even get near him.
Well, there are some good reasons for the small group. First off, there were no local TV cameras there, probably because it's a 1 o'clock start and they don't need the pre-game sound for the 5 o'clock news. The game will be over by then. Also, none of the Penguins' beat writers were there.
Boudreau said there were no changes to the lineup, which means Chris Clark is, as we expected, in the lineup and Michael Nylander and Jeff Schultz are out. I'm pretty sure the lines will be the same, but I'll wait until after warm-ups to post both team's lines and D pairings.
It is expected that Simeon Varlamov will see a lot more rubber in this series than he did against the Rangers. Varlamov faced roughly 24 shots per game against the Rangers, with a high of 33 (he stopped them all) in Game 3.
However, he has proven to be capable of handling a lot of pressure. During the regular season he faced nearly 31 shots per game in his five starts and had only one game in which he surrendered more than two goals.
He faced a regular-season high 33 in his NHL debut against the Montreal Canadiens on Dec. 13 and turned aside 32 of them. He stopped 36 of 38 shots on March 28, when he was playing for Hershey of the AHL.
"This is a different animal coming at you," Boudreau said. "I do know his first game ever here in North America, his first preseason game, was in Carolina and they outshot us 21-3 in the first period and we ended up leading 1-0. That was probably a more pressurized situation for him, his first game to show off his stuff, or as much anyway as to what I think this will be."
Varlamov might not have as much heat on him if the Caps continue to beat Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury the way they did during the regular season. The Caps scored 17 goals on 123 shots against Fleury, who posted a 4.72 goals-against-average and .862 save percentage in the season series.
Fleury's lone win came on March 8 when he turned aside 18 of 21 shots and the Penguins won, 4-3, in a shootout. He was pulled on Feb. 22 after giving up five goals on 20 shots just 33 minutes into the game, but that was the second of a back-to-back for Fleury and his third game in four nights. Fleury also gave up five goals to Washington on Jan. 14, but that, too, was the second of a back-to-back.
"I'm not using that," Boudreau said. "All I know is he played great in the Stanley Cup Playoffs last year and he played great in the first series this year so I'm assuming he's ready to play great again."
-- Dan Rosen
What did Bylsma learn?
05.02.2009 11:15 a.m.
Both the Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals were forced to overcome a bit of adversity in their opening-round series triumphs during the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals.
The Penguins appeared to be headed back to Mellon Arena in Pittsburgh for a seventh and deciding game after falling behind the Flyers, 3-0, in Game 6 at Wachovia Center. But the Pens rallied for a 5-3 victory and a 4-2 series triumph.
Penguins coach Dan Bylsma, who led the club to an 18-3-4 mark after being hired as head coach on Feb. 15, discussed what he learned about his team following that Game 6 victory in Philadelphia.
"We knew we had some experience in the playoffs the previous year that we were hoping to draw upon," Bylsma said. "But the emotions are so ramped up and they are so raw, and you're in buildings on the road where fans are taunting you and screaming and it's loud in there and it's something to talk about it, but it's a whole other thing to control your emotions when you're in those circumstances.
"We were tested in their building, and we were tested by a team who played very well. We had to find out how we were going to respond, and at times in the series, we knew we had to get better in that area and that category. I think Game 6 was a situation where we were really tested and looking at possibly going into a Game 7 with fans that were loud and rambunctious and taunting us, and our players in that particular game really did a good job of playing the same way. They kept talking about it on the bench. It wasn't just one guy who took it into his own hands; it was shift after shift. That was the strength of our team in that game."
--Mike G. Morreale
Gonchar knows Pens have to be defensive
05.02.2009 10:45 a.m. ET
There's an unreal amount of hype surrounding the matchups in this series, but one very important thing still has to happen:
The Penguins and Capitals have to take the ice and play the games. They'll start in a couple of hours here at Verizon Center, which promises to be rocking in all its red glory.
Yesterday at the Penguins team hotel I caught up with Sergei Gonchar for a story about the Russians in this series as well as his past as a defenseman for the Caps. Mike Morreale also got Bill Guerin talking about Sidney Crosby.
What didn't make it in to my Gonchar stories was some Xs and Os stuff. Ah, not important, right?
Gonchar said a key for the Penguins is to play a little bit like the Rangers did in Games 1, 2 and 4 against the Capitals. They laid themselves down on the ice to block a ton of shots and in doing so clogged the middle so much that the Caps couldn't penetrate into the slot.
Keeping the Caps on the perimeter is essential for the Penguins because Gonchar admitted that Washington is probably the best team on the cycle that the Penguins will face. Remember, Pittsburgh is pretty good on the cycle, too, so he didn't want to say the Caps are the best in the League at handling the puck and time of possession down low.
"They have all the offense," Gonchar said. "They have so much talent offensively so obviously if they are going to spend a lot of time in our zone they're going to find those opportunities. That's why we have to make sure if they are in our zone they don't have those quality chances. That's one of the things we're going to work on."
Gonchar does think the Penguins experience of participating in last year's Stanley Cup Final will help them handle the spotlight that is already shining down brightly on this series.
"Yeah, definitely it will help us a lot," he said. "We went to the final. We have been under pressure, under the microscope. It's going to be easier for our guys to experience it again."
-- Dan Rosen
05.02.2009 10:40 a.m.
Is there any question this conference semifinal round series between the Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins will feature many of the League's biggest names. Here's a primer for those scoring at home. Follow along now:
* The NHL's last three Art Ross Trophy winners (Evgeni Malkin, Alex Ovechkin, Sidney Crosby)
* The NHL's last two MVPs (Ovechkin, Crosby) and two of the three finalists for the award this year (Ovechkin, Malkin).
* The NHL's top three point scorers (Malkin, Ovechkin, Crosby).
* Three of the NHL's top four assist men (Malkin, Crosby, Nicklas Backstrom)
* Five of the NHL's top nine point scorers since the All-Star break (Ovechkin, Malkin, Crosby, Mike Green, Backstrom)
* Three of the NHL's top five playoff scorers (Malkin, Crosby, Semin
--Mike G. Morreale
Desperately seeking Ovie
05.01.2009 2:35 p.m.
Washington Capitals Chairman and Owner Ted Leonsis strolled into the Capitals locker room following his team's brisk 45-minute workout at Kettler Capitals Iceplex on Monday with a gift for Alex Ovechkin.
"Where's Ovie?" he asked the media hoard still milling around the locker room area.
Leonsis was holding a plastic bag that contained a Cleveland Cavaliers jersey that was personally signed by forward LeBron James for Ovechkin. The gesture was actually James' idea of returning a favor since Ovechkin had given James a signed Capitals jersey earlier this month during a Wizards-Cavs game at Verizon Center.
Leonsis had apparently arranged the meeting of the two All-Stars during the NBA game through a friend. At the time of the meeting, Ovechkin was with teammate Nicklas Backstrom and Leonsis, who owns the Capitals and the Wizards.
--Mike G. Morreale
05.01.2009 2:30 p.m.
While Penguins coach Dan Bylsma knows it won't be easy containing "Mr. Excitement," Alex Ovechkin, he also wants to stress to his team that No. 8 isn't the only offensive weapon on the ice for the Capitals.
"We certainly have to be aware of Ovechkin, but he's not the only guy who they have that can do the similar things that he can do," Bylsma said. "(Alexander) Semin is that way, as well, and you know, (Nicklas) Backstrom is a different type of one-on-one player but very skilled and you have to be aware of him, as well.
"We are going to be aware of them and we are going to talk about certain things, certain matchups, but we are also going to be concerned about our systematic approach, because every player could be out there and he could be matched up against their top lines, their top two lines, and we need to all be confident in that approach."
Ovechkin has scored 10 goals and 21 points in 16 career games against the Penguins.
--Mike G. Morreale
Ovechkin, Boudreau, Laich, Green oh my
05.01.2009 2:45 p.m. ET
The Caps had a spirited 35-40 minute workout today and everyone skated. Yes, that means Alex Ovechkin, who denies to the sky that he's nursing any type of injury.
After practice the locker room was filled up by a large contingent of media here to hype up this series. I did an interview on a Pittsburgh radio station to, of course, hype up this series. They asked me who would win, and to be honest, I have no clue.
They told me it was the most honest answer they've gotten since late Tuesday night.
As for the participants, at least from one side of this series, there were obviously some interesting comments all around, some of which ended up on the cutting room floor so to speak. Adam Kimelman is in Pittsburgh today and he'll probably be checking in shortly.
Here are some of the comments from today that didn't end up in my story. It's obvious that the hype machine has been kicked into overdrive.
"Well, you know, it's a great series with great players playing against each other and good teams playing against each other. If I was a fan of course I would watch this series. It's a big marketing for the NHL and lots of attention. It's pretty cool I think."
"Of course I'm more excited (than the last round), but we don't have lots of time to practice or get some rest. Pittsburgh has because they've been finished earlier than us. They're more fresh. They're not tired. They feel pretty good."
"I think we have got more physical guys than Pittsburgh and we have to use them. We're bigger and we're stronger. But, again, it doesn't matter who gets more hits, it just a matter of who gets more goals to win the game."
"I think media-wise it is (similar to Bird vs. Magic). Any time it came on TV you saw a picture of Bird and you saw a picture of Magic and it wouldn't be the Lakers and Celtics, it would be them. Watching the first couple of days, I don't see it going Semin vs. Malkin, it's always Ovechkin vs. Crosby. We know, as I am sure they do, that it is team vs. team and they have a lot more weapons than just the one guy as I think we have more weapons than just our one guy. We'll let you guys keep talking about those two and we'll talk about the team aspect of it."
"For the growth of the game I think it's great. It's the same reason the Capitals should be on Jan. 1 next year, by the way. There are a lot of people in places that don't get a lot of hockey but they know who Crosby is and they know who Ovechkin is so they might tune in for the curiosity factor and hopefully they'll find the excitement in it and say, 'Geez, we want to watch this a little longer.' "
"You have the three best players in the game in this series, but other than that the teams are very deep and very exciting. I think they have a very skilled team, a young team and a fun team to watch. I think we have the same thing."
"I had a talk this morning with some people back home on a radio station and I think it's great. Those two guys are the face of this rivalry, but I think it's great for hockey in general in the States. In Canada the game is homegrown and everywhere, but in the States we have to do a better job marketing it and now you have the two biggest superstars in the game going head-to-head. It's good exposure for the League."
"I can't say for the fans, but as a player the challenge we're presented of playing them and just the history we've had now with Sid and Alex and the growth of each organization; now we can battle it out and see who's on top."
-- Dan Rosen
Live from Arlington, Va. (again)
05.01.2009 10:23 a.m. ET
The media room is already filling up with some of hockey's most veteran writers, including scribes from Sports Illustrated, ESPN.com, the Globe and Mail, Washington Post and, of course, NHL.com.
Myself and Mike Morreale are bunkered down here at Kettler Capitals Iceplex as we prepare to talk to the team on the eve of this big, massive, huge (how many adjectives are out there) series.
The ice is still empty, but the Caps aren't supposed to be out for practice until 10:30.
I am going to be keeping my eye on Alex Ovechkin today because there are rumors that he might not be 100 percent. Personally, I don't think that even matters in this series. It's not as if he's going to miss a game, and when he's on the ice all eyes gravitate toward him. I bet he is 100 percent, so I don't htink it's going to be an issue.
As I type this, Ovechkin, Brooks Laich and Milan Jurcina have hit the ice. The rest of the Caps are following.
Mike and I will be checking in with updates throughout the day. I'll be sure to back on a little later on this afternoon after banging out a story about Ovechkin.
-- Dan Rosen
Varlamov wise beyond his years
04.30.2009 3:20 p.m. ET
Simeon Varlamov speaks!
The Russian rookie who was so sensational in the final six games of the Washington Capitals' seven-game victory over the New York Rangers has limited English ability, but he was able to conduct a press conference after practice Thursday with the aid of Russian Sport-Express journalist Slava Malamud.
"I wouldn't say it's drastically different," Varlamov said, comparing his previous playoff experiences. "We made the final last year and there was a lot of media attention during the final, TV discussions about it all the time. There's a little more attention. The one difference is, at least last year, I'm not sure how it is now, but the media wasn't allowed in the locker room after the games. So, there is some additional pressure in that respect."
Varlamov turned 23 Monday, but was too caught up in the Rangers series to give it too much thought. He's had a head-spinning year with a handful of significant accomplishments. He became the first goalie to win his NHL debut in Montreal, on Dec. 13, since Hardy Astrom turned the trick in 1978. He was the first Capitals' goalie to win his first three NHL starts since Jim Carey won his first four games in 1994-95 and he is the youngest Russian goalie to play in the NHL.
"I couldn't afford to and really didn't want to because I couldn't afford to throw any kind of American-style birthday party because I didn't have the time," Varlamov said. "And, I didn't want to do anything to throw myself off, so no, I didn't do anything special."
Varlamov likely won't be much help in advising his teammates about fellow Russian Evgeni Malkin. He never played against him although they were teammates on the Russian team at the 2005 and 2006 World Junior Championships. Varlamov played again in the 2007 World Junior Championship, losing to Canada both times in the final. He was the backup in 2005 and 2006 and then had the second-best GAA (1.51) to gold-medal winner Carey Price, now with the Montreal Canadiens.
"I never played against him, but I played with him at the World Junior Championships," Varlamov said. "That's the only time we met and we won the silver medal."
Varlamov is showing signs of a playoff beard and said it's not his first, he grew one last year, so the trend has spread to Russia.
Varlamov played most of this season with the AHL Hershey Bears, the Capitals' affiliate, and came up for six games late in the season, going 4-0-1. He was told that is similar to the experience of Patrick Roy and Ken Dryden, two of the game's greats. Varlamov replaced Jose Theodore in Game 2 against the Rangers and has been very Dryden-like in posting a 4-2 record with a 1.17 GAA and .952 save percentage. He was asked about the parallels.
"I don't make comparisons. That's you guys' jobs," he said. "I'm aware of those players."
Varlamov was asked who his Russian goaltending heroes were as he grew up. Ilya Bryzgalov was the national team goalie for most of his teen years but wasn't Varlamov's top pick.
"Actually, it's Nikolai Khabibulin," Varlamov said. "He was the first Russian goalie to win the Stanley Cup, the first to go all the way. I consider him the most accomplished Russian goalie, among the modern goalies."
He was asked if he feels better now that he has won a Stanley Cup Playoff series, Varlamov, who appears to have a world-weary cynical side, responded, "I certainly feel a sense of relief but we have a Russian expression that a mountain has fallen off my shoulders and now a bigger mountain has landed on them."
Varlamov is very fussy about the spelling and pronunciation of his first and last names and isn't pleased with the translations of either from the Cyrillic to Roman alphabets. He had previously instructed beat writers that his last name is pronounced "var-LAH-mov." Today, he explained that his first name is pronounced "Semi-yawn."
Varlamov learned to skate when he was 8-years-old and soon after wanted to be a goalie. He's never played another position in organized hockey.
"The first two months, I was just learning to skate, then I fell in love with the goalie equipment and that's how I became a goalie," he said.
He said there is no chance his parents will be able to come over for the Stanley Cup Playoffs but they are following it closely.
"Strange as it sounds, we do own TVs in Russia and they get up at 3 a.m. to watch the games," Varlamov said.
As The Three Stooges Curly used to say, "Oh, wise guy?"
-- John McGourty
Land of the giants
04.29.2009 04:01 PM ET
How could anyone not be eagerly anticipating this series?
It has the top-three point producers in the NHL in Evgeni Malkin, Alex Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby.
Still not enough scoring for you?
Washington forwards Nicklas Backstrom and Alexander Semin each cracked the 75-point barrier this season. Pittsburgh forwards Petr Sykora and Bill Guerin, each of whom has won a Stanley Cup, has reached the 30-goal plateau at least twice in their career.
Both teams aren't afraid to generate offense from their back end either. The Capitals boast Mike Green, who led the League's defensemen with 31 goals and 73 points this season, as well as Tom Poti, who had a goal and 3 assists in Washington's pivotal Game 6 win against the Rangers.
The Penguins, meanwhile, have the speedy and talented former Capital Sergei Gonchar, who scored the game- and series-winning goal in Game 6 of Pittsburgh's series with the Flyers. Gonchar missed 56 games with a shoulder injury this season, but is back in form and is Pittsburgh's top point man on the power play. While Gonchar has produced seven 50-point seasons, some would argue that he is past his prime at 35. But an offensive Penguins' defenseman that can refute that claim would be 22-year-old sophomore Kris Letang, who had 23 assists and 33 points in 74 games this season.
With all of this firepower it looks like goalies Simeon Varlamov and Marc-Andre Fleury are going to have their hands full.
-- Adam Schwartz