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Round 2
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Stanley Cup Final

Ovi, Caps closing the gap on Sid, Pens

Friday, 03.26.2010 / 9:56 AM / Inside the Numbers

By John Kreiser - NHL.com Columnist

Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins owned Alex Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals in the early years of their rivalry. Now, Ovi and the Caps are getting even -- at least in the regular season.

Neither player had a goal (each had an assist) during Washington's 4-3 shootout win Wednesday -- the first time that's happened in their last 13 meetings, dating to Oct. 16, 2008. But this season's series has been all Ovi and the Caps -- they've won each of the three meetings, once in regulation, one in overtime and once in a shootout.

For the first time in their rivalry, Ovechkin has been significantly more productive than Crosby in their meetings. Ovi has 5 goals and 8 points in his three games against Crosby and the Penguins, while Crosby has 3 goals and 4 points in the three games.

Sid outscored Ovi, 19 points to 15, in the first three seasons of their rivalry -- and the Penguins went 10-1-0 in games when both of them dressed (Crosby missed one game, a Washington victory, with an injury in 2007-08).

That's why Crosby still leads his points race with Ovechkin -- in the 18 games in which they've both played, Sid has 11 goals and 30 points, while Ovi has 15 goals and 29 points. And despite not beating the Caps this season, the Penguins with Sid have dominated their regular-season meetings, going 11-5-2 to 7-8-3 for Ovi and the Caps.

Of course, the Penguins got the biggest win last spring when they beat Ovechkin and the Caps in Game 7 of their second-round playoff series -- even though Ovi actually outscored Sid 14-13 (both had 8 goals).

Missed opportunity -- The Penguins had their chance to win Wednesday's game when Kris Letang and Crosby beat Jose Theodore in the first two rounds of the shootout. That kind of a lead is money in the bank -- about 78 percent of this season's shootouts have been won by the team that scored first. But Ovechkin and Alexander Semin scored for Washington to push the competition into a fourth round, and Mike Knuble scored the first shootout goal of his career to give Washington the 4-3 win -- and make the Penguins the first team this season to lose a shootout after taking a 2-0 lead.

Let's hang on -- It's no secret the New York Islanders still have a lot of work to do. They were 30th in the League standings in 2008-09 with 61 points, and while they'll improve on that total this season (they already have 70 points), they appear destined for a bottom-five finish.

But if there's one area in which the Isles have to improve to become a playoff team again, it's holding onto a lead once they get ahead.

The Isles led Anaheim 4-2 in the third period last Friday, only to see the Ducks tie the game in regulation and win in overtime. That marked the eighth time this season the Isles have led by more than one goal and failed to win the game -- tying the Islanders with Detroit for the most blown multi-goal leads in the League this season. New York also has had eight other games in which it led by two or more goals in regulation, saw the opposition tie the game but won in overtime or a shootout.

On the flip side, the Islanders are the only team in the NHL that hasn't won a game in which it trailed by two or more goals -- they are 0-26-2 when the opponent gets ahead by more than one goal. They also struggle when trailing after two periods, going 2-28-4 this season (including Thursday's come-from-behind 3-2 win against Calgary) after being a League-worst 1-35-5 in 2008-09.

But one thing the Isles have done well this season is make life miserable for Western Conference teams. Western teams are winning about 57 percent of their games against the East, but the Islanders are 9-6-2 against the West and have beaten Chicago, Vancouver, Phoenix, Colorado, Nashville and Detroit -- six of the top eight in the conference. Only one Eastern team, the Buffalo Sabres (10) has more wins against the West than the Islanders.

Hab-bing a ball -- If the Ottawa Senators played the Montreal Canadiens every night, Daniel Alfredsson might rival Ovechkin and Crosby for the scoring title.

Alfredsson had a pair of assists Monday when Ottawa blanked the Canadiens, 2-0, giving him 99 points (29 goals, 70 assists) in 75 games against the Habs. It's the most points by any active player against the Canadiens by a lot; Carolina's Rod Brind'Amour is second with 57.

What happened to the goals? -- Once upon a time, the Rangers-Bruins rivalry featured offensive stars like Bobby Orr and Phil Esposito for Boston, Rod Gilbert and Brad Park for New York. These days, though, a Bruins-Rangers matchup means a slow night for the goal judges. Sunday's 2-1 victory by the Bruins in Boston was a typical game between the two teams over the past three seasons -- in their 12 meetings since the start of the 2007-08 season, they've combined for just 36 non-shootout goals, or three per game. No teams who've played 10 or more games have scored so few goals during that span.

Devoted to the Winged Wheel -- Maybe there's something about wearing a Red Wings uniform that inspires loyalty.

Detroit defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom reached the 1,400-game plateau when he took the ice at Edmonton last Friday. Lidstrom, who has played his entire career in Detroit since entering the NHL in 1991, is the seventh player in League history to play at least 1,400 games for one team -- but the fourth Red Wing. He's behind Gordie Howe (1,687), Steve Yzerman (1,514) and Alex Delvecchio (1,509). The others are Ray Bourque (1,518) and Johnny Bucyk (1,436) with Boston and Mike Modano (1,454) with the Stars in Minnesota and Dallas.

Lidstrom is the fourth man to play 1,400 or more games and spend his whole career with one team -- but the third Wing to do so, joining Delvecchio and Yzerman. Modano -- ironically, a Michigan native -- is the only other player with 1,400 games with one franchise, though he's done it in two cities.

I've been getting frustrated lately, and the only thing keeping me sane was the team winning and other people stepping up and scoring. Then you just kind of let it go and realize you can end the series with one shot, that frustration goes away for a brief moment, and that's what happened.

— Montreal forward Max Pacioretty after scoring the OT winner in Game 4 -- his first career playoff goal -- to eliminate the Lightning and send the Canadiens into the second round