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Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic is must-see TV

by Dave Lozo /
A friend who likes hockey but doesn't necessarily "like like" hockey asked why he should watch the 2011 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals.

What's so special about these teams that he should dedicate several hours of his life to watching them play a regular-season game? The simple answer is … everything.

If you don’t believe me, here's five reasons why you should flip to NBC  (in the U.S.) or CBC (in Canada) at 8 p.m. ET on New Year's Day:

1. Sidney Crosby: At this point last season, there was a compelling debate as to who was the best player in the NHL. Crosby has effectively put an end to that discussion with his 32 goals and 33 assists in 39 games this season. The chance to watch an athlete who is as dominant in his sport as Crosby is always special, but to see him in a setting like the Winter Classic makes it even more so. Throw in the fact that Crosby had his 25-game points streak snapped in Pittsburgh's last game, and you've got a motivated superstar playing against the team he dislikes the most.

2. More talent: Let's say Crosby decides he'd rather take the day off and skip the Winter Classic. Both sides boast enough combined talent to rival any potential matchup in the NHL. Washington's Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and Alex Semin all are in the top 25 in scoring. Pittsburgh's Evgeni Malkin has 32 points in 35 games and that's considered a slow start for him. Pens defenseman Kris Letang is among the Norris Trophy candidates with 6 goals, 26 assists and a plus-19 in 39 games. Caps defenseman Mike Green is one of the premiere offensive blueliners. It's a virtual All-Star Game that counts in the standings.

3. Best on big stage: The last time the Pens and Caps got together on a big stage, magical things happened. In their previous playoff meeting in 2009, the series went seven games. In Game 2 of that series, superstars Crosby and Ovechkin were worth the price of admission as both recorded hat tricks. Ovechkin's third goal was the winner, as the Caps prevailed 4-3 -- but they went on to lose the series. Perhaps asking for a double hat trick is a lot, but these teams always bring their best when facing each other.

4. Genuine rivalry: Have we mentioned how much these teams hate each other? Because they do. Max Talbot let it be known during an episode of "24/7" that he doesn't care for the Caps. Coach Bruce Boudreau said Thursday that he feels the same way about the Penguins. They say anger and hate are bad for you, but they are great for sports. It may just be a regular-season game, but the hate will breed intensity, and intense hockey is always fun hockey to watch.

5. The "24/7" payoff: The beauty of HBO's "24/7 Penguins-Capitals: Road to the Winter Classic" is getting a behind-the-scenes look at some players you might not know. Whether it's Pens defenseman Ben Lovejoy and his swollen face or teammate Mike Rupp's interesting Christmas costume, you've gotten to know them on a personal level. Same goes for the Caps' Matt Hendricks and his bloody eye and forward Brooks Laich's fist-pumping after the Caps snapped their eight-game losing streak. Seeing players you've gotten to know on a personal level makes watching the culmination of it all that much more fun.

Follow Dave Lozo on Twitter: @DaveLozo

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