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Supporting cast just as important as the big stars

Thursday, 04.30.2009 / 2:55 PM / Conference Semifinals: Washington vs. Pittsburgh

By Dave Lozo - NHL.com Staff Writer

"I think our guys are unheralded. But most of the guys, forwards seven through 12, have championship rings in the American League with me, and I know what they can do, and they know I have a lot of faith in them. I think in the end, usually what happens is the superstars get covered and the role players end up being the unsung heroes."
-- Bruce Boudreau

Is the Eastern Conference Semifinal series between the Penguins and Capitals going to come down to Crosby versus Ovechkin? Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau sees things a little differently.

"I think both units have great supporting casts. It's one of the reasons that Pittsburgh made it to the Finals last year," said Boudreau during a conference call Thursday. "Don't forget, they have a third-line center that was a second-overall pick (Jordan Staal) and plays in all situations, and when called upon can score 20 goals a year. I mean, their depth is really good.

"I think our guys are unheralded. But most of the guys, forwards seven through 12, have championship rings in the American League with me, and I know what they can do, and they know I have a lot of faith in them. I think in the end, usually what happens is the superstars get covered and the role players end up being the unsung heroes." 

It's not that Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin aren't worthy of being singled out as the stars of their teams, but it's easy to lose sight of the fact that it takes a group effort to win during the Stanley Cup Playoffs and one-man shows are usually only successful when they happen in theaters.

Sometimes a strong supporting cast can be more important than the big-name stars who headline the show. Defenseman Mark Eaton scored a whopping four goals in 68 games this season, but he found the back of the net twice to help the Penguins eliminate the Flyers in six games. Capitals defenseman Tom Poti had 13 points all season, but he stepped up with six points (2 goals) in the seven-game series victory against the New York Rangers.

Boudreau appreciates what Poti has brought to the table in these playoffs.

"He's played in a lot of situations before. He's played in a lot of tough buildings," Boudreau said. "So, I mean, I think genuinely he's got the experience that none of our other guys have had and he's stepped up his game tremendously in the playoffs, as we knew he could. To me he's playing up to the potential I thought he would be playing at for the whole year." 

Heck, as wonderful as Crosby (4 goals, 4 assists) and Ovechkin (3 goals, 4 assists) were in the first round, they don't even lead their teams in playoff scoring. Penguins’ Hart Trophy candidate Evgeni Malkin leads the NHL in points with nine, and Alexander Semin's eight points lead the Capitals and his five goals are tied with Carolina's Eric Staal for the League lead.

By himself, developing a plan to rein in Crosby wouldn't be that difficult. But with Malkin playing on a separate line most of the time, Boudreau can't throw his top defensive unit out there without thinking about which 100-point scorer on which he wants to focus his attention. Boudreau isn't going to reveal his game plan for stopping the Penguins' dynamic duo in Game 1 (Saturday, 1 p.m. ET, NBC, CBC, RDS) but he wasn't shy with reporters when asked about the challenge.

"It's definitely an issue. It's going to be a problem," Boudreau said. "I mean, whether they play together or whether they play on separate lines, they're two of the best players in the world. You know, we've watched a lot of tape on both of them, both individually and as a team. I don't think anybody's going to stop them cold, but maybe we can do a little something to detain them a little bit. That's our whole hope.

"I mean, I don't know if matching up against them is better or worse for your team. It certainly makes it difficult on us." 

Washington Capitals Playoff GearNot that a forward or defenseman can't take over a game with a great individual effort, but if anyone is going to steal a game in the playoffs, it's a goaltender. You have to look no further than Marc-Andre Fleury, who stood on his head (although not literally) in Game 4 of the Pens' series against the Flyers, stopping 45 shots in a 3-1 win that gave the Pens a 3-1 series lead.

Even Caps rookie goalie Simeon Varlamov showed he can win a game by himself, delivering shutouts in Games 3 and 5 against the Rangers. Fleury has shown he can excel on a big stage with his performance during last season's playoffs, but the spotlight on this Pens-Caps series that even Boudreau called a circus makes the bright lights of Manhattan look like pocket flashlights. Can Varlamov, who just became old enough to buy beer last week, stay cool in the presence of the flash of superstars Crosby and Malkin?

"He's so quiet, I don't know if it's affecting him," said Boudreau. "I'm sure, like any one of us, he's got a good poker face, but his stomach is churning. I can only imagine if I was there. But he seems very calm."


Quote of the Day

I remember the first time at Wrigley Field all of us had the long johns, the turtlenecks and the extra equipment because we were afraid of being cold. Halfway through the first period everybody's ripping everything off and we just ended up wearing what we would normally wear for a game at the United Center.

— Chicago Blackhawks forward Patrick Sharp on the 2009 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic