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Capitals vs. Penguins Series Storylines

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Series Storylines

Season Match-up: The Capitals won three of the four games between the teams during the 2008-09 season, including both at Pittsburgh’s Mellon Arena. The Penguins’ lone victory came on March 8, with Sidney Crosby scoring the only goal in a shootout after tallies by Alex Ovechkin and Brooks Laich had erased a 3-1 Pens lead going into the third period. None of the four meetings lacked for offense, as the teams combined for seven goals three times and nine goals once. Alexander Semin (4-3-7) and Ovechkin (4-2-6) led the Caps in scoring while Crosby (1-6-7) and Evgeni Malkin (2-3-5) paced the Pens.

Playoff History: While this will be the eighth playoff series between the old Patrick Division rivals, it will be the first since 2001. Pittsburgh won six of the previous seven postseason meetings – including two that went all the way to seventh games (1992 Patrick Division SF, 1995 Eastern Conference QF). Their six-game 2001 Eastern Conference Quarter-Final included five one-goal games of which two went into overtime. On Apr. 24, 1009, Pittsburgh’s Petr Nedved ended the fifth-longest game in NHL history by scoring 19:15 into the fourth overtime of Game 4 of an Eastern Conference Quarter-Final in which Washington won the first two games and Pittsburgh the next four.

First-Round Recap: The Capitals defeated the New York Rangers in seven games, becoming the 21st club in NHL history to win a best-of-seven series in which it trailed 3-1. Tapped as the starter for Game 2 after the Capitals dropped the series-opener 4-3, rookie goaltender Simeon Varlamov backstopped the Capitals post their first playoff series victory since advancing to the Stanley Cup Final in 1998 by going 4-2 with a 1.17 goals-against average, .952 save percentage and two shutouts.

The Penguins eliminated the Philadelphia Flyers in the Conference Quarter-Finals, vanquishing their intra-state rival for the second consecutive playoff year. The series was capped by a 5-3 victory in Game 6 at Philadelphia, a match the Penguins had trailed 3-0. C Evgeni Malkin, the NHL's scoring champion in the regular season, also led all players in the first round with 4-5--9. C Sidney Crosby was one of three players tied for second with eight points (4-4--8).

You’ve Gotta Have Hart (and Ross, Norris and Calder): This series will witness a showdown between two of the three finalists for the 2008-09 Hart Trophy as League MVP – Ovechkin and Malkin. It also includes a Norris Trophy finalist (Washington’s Mike Green) and the winners of the Art Ross Trophy as League scoring champ (Malkin) and Rocket Richard Trophy that goes to the NHL’s leading goal-scorer (Ovechkin). Crosby (2007) and Ovechkin (2008) are the last two Hart and Ross winners.

Surfing the Atlantic: The Penguins weren’t the only Atlantic Division team that took its lumps against Washington this season. The Caps went 14-2-4 against Atlantic Division teams, managing at least a point from every game except two against the Philadelphia Flyers

Catalytic Coaching:
By soaring after replacing Michel Therrien with Dan Bylsma on Feb. 15, Pittsburgh took a page out of Washington’s 2007-08 playbook. When Bruce Boudreau took over as Caps’ interim coach on Nov. 22, 2007, the club was last in the league. Washington went 37-17-7 the rest of the way to claim the Southeast Division title and Boudreau had “interim” removed from his title. Pittsburgh went 18-3-4 after Bylsma took over to go from 10th in the Eastern Conference to its fourth seed entering the playoffs. On Wednesday, the “interim” tag was removed from his title.

That’s G that Rhymes with D: Each team possesses a dynamic offensive threat on defense who adds another dimension to respective attacks already blessed with prolific forwards. Washington’s Mike Green led all NHL defensemen in goals (31) and points (73). Pittsburgh’s Sergei Gonchar perennially is among the League’s highest-scoring blueliners and had 19 points in just 25 games this season after returning from injury. Gonchar played his first 10 NHL seasons with Washington, scoring more than 20 regular-season goals twice. He ranks 14th on the Caps’ all-time playoffs scoring list with 13-18-31 in 51 games.

Powering Up: Washington unleashed the NHL’s second-best power play during the regular season, scoring on 25.2 percent of its chances – though the Caps were held to six goals on 33 power plays by the NY Rangers in the first round. Pittsburgh’s power play was an underwhelming 20th in the League this season, largely because of Gonchar’s absence for the first four months. The Pens’ PP also was unsuccessful in the first round, scoring just four times on 32 chances against Philadelphia.

Precocious Goaltenders: The grizzled veteran in the matchup though he is only 24, Pittsburgh’s Marc-Andre Fleury has played in 31 playoff games already – including 20 last spring when he backstopped the Pens to the Stanley Cup Final with a 1.97 goals against average. Washington rookie Simeon Varlamov played in only six regular-season games before taking over for Jose Theodore for Game 2 of the Rangers series. Unlike Fleury, who lost four of five games in his playoffs debut in 2007, Varlamov won four of his six games against New York while allowing just seven goals (1.17 GAA) on 145 shots (.952 save percentage).

Writing Coach: Pens coach Dan Bylsma and his father, Jay, co-wrote a book for youth sports parents titled: So Your Son Wants to Play in the NHL. While addressing such topics as how much children should practice and how to avoid burnout, the Bylsmas detail their belief that success in sports should flow from the proper approach to off-the-field life – including putting education, character and morals first. Washington coach Bruce Boudreau was an extra in the movie “Slap Shot.”

Washington Capitals

NHL Playoff Appearance: 20th (second consecutive)
Stanley Cups: none
All-Time Playoff Series Record: 11-19
All-Time Playoff Game Record: 76-92

Key Acquisitions

None.

Season Highlights


The Capitals captured back-to-back division titles for the second time in franchise history (1999-2000 and 2000-01) and set a franchise single-season franchise mark with 108 points (50-24-8), surpassing the 107 from 1985-86. The name of the game was offense: the Capitals ranked third in the League with 272 goals, their most since tallying 277 in 1993-94. Their power play ranked second in the NHL, scoring at a 25.2% clip (85 for 337), the team's highest percentage ever.

Each of Washington's top four scorers – LW Alex Ovechkin, C Nicklas Backstrom, LW Alexander Semin and D Mike Green – averaged more than a point per game for the season. No NHL team has gotten a point per game from its top four scorers since the 1995-96 Pittsburgh Penguins (Mario Lemieux, Jaromir Jagr, Ron Francis and Petr Nedved). In 49 of the Capitals' 50 wins this season at least one of the four scored a goal. The one exception was a 2-1 win Dec. 6 in Toronto.

LW Alex Ovechkin ranked second in the NHL points race with 110 (56 goals, 54 assists), becoming the fourth player in League history to post 100-plus points in three of his first four NHL seasons (following Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux and Dale Hawerchuk). Ovechkin recorded points in 20 of his last 22 games, posting separate nine- and 10-game point streaks in that stretch. Ovechkin led the League in shots for the fourth time in his four NHL seasons with a career-high 528, more than 100 ahead of his closest competitor. He became the second player in NHL history to surpass 500 shots in a season and would have challenged Phil Esposito's NHL-record of 550 had he not missed four games.

Ovechkin scored 56 goals to capture the Maurice Richard Trophy, awarded to the NHL's goal-scoring leader. He becomes the first Richard winner in consecutive years since Florida's Pavel Bure in 2000 and 2001. Ovechkin reached the 50-goal milestone for the third time in his career, becoming the second active player to record three 50-goal seasons (joining Teemu Selanne) and the third player all-time to post three 50-goal seasons in his first four years in the NHL (joining Mike Bossy and Wayne Gretzky).

Mike Green led all NHL defensemen in scoring with 73 points (31 goals, 42 assists) in 68 games and ranked second on the club in plus-minus (+24). Green set an NHL record for defensemen by scoring a goal in eight consecutive games from Jan. 27 to Feb. 14, breaking Mike O’Connell’s 25-year-old League record. During his record-setting streak, Green posted 10 goals and 7 assists for 17 points. Green set a Capitals record for defensemen with 18 power-play goals, one shy of Sheldon Souray's NHL record. He became just the seventh NHL blueliner with a 30-goal season, the first since the Caps' Kevin Hatcher in 1992-93 and the only one to do so in fewer than 70 games. His per-game scoring average of 1.07 is the most by a defenseman since 1994-95 (Edmonton's Paul Coffey, 1.29).

LW Alexander Semin was named the NHL's First Star of the Month for October, averaged nearly two points per game in November (5-6--11 in six games) and was the NHL's leading scorer before being sidelined by injury in a game against New Jersey Nov. 14. Semin finished the regular season as the club leader in plus-minus (+25), ranked second in goals (34) and third in assists (45).

C Nicklas Backstrom ranked fifth in the NHL in assists (66) in his sophomore season. Only seven players have posted more assists in their first two NHL seasons than Backstrom's 121. Backstrom finished 10th in the NHL in points with 88 (22 goals, 66 assists), the most by a Capitals player other than Alex Ovechkin in 20 years (Mike Ridley had 89 points in 1988-89).

G Simeon Varlamov had appeared in only six regular-season NHL games when called upon to start Game Two of the Eastern Conference Quarter-Final series against the NY Rangers. Varlamov, who turned 21 on April 27, calmly turned in a brilliant final six games to backstop the Caps into the next round. He posted shutouts in Games 3 and 5, allowed only seven goals in 358 minutes (1.17 goals against average) and stopped 138 of 145 shots (.952 save percentage).


Key Wins

Oct. 16: The Capitals scored three unanswered goals in the third period to pull out a 4-3 victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins, who had gone 10-1-1 in their previous 12 games against Washington. Boyd Gordon scored the game-winner with less than five minutes to play for the Capitals, who outshot the Penguins 21-6 in the final period.

Nov. 6: Early-season scoring sensation Alexander Semin continued his torrid start by scoring twice in the final 2:43 - including the game-winner with 10.7 seconds left - to give the Capitals a 3-2 victory over the Carolina Hurricanes. Despite being held without a goal for a career-high eighth consecutive game, Alex Ovechkin nevertheless was a major contributor, earning assists on all three Washington goals.

Dec. 23: The Capitals erased a 4-0 New York Rangers lead to post a 5-4 overtime victory for Washington's first win at Madison Square Garden in nearly five years. Alex Ovechkin sparked the comeback with a goal and two assists - including the game-tying goal with fewer than eight minutes left - and defenseman Shaone Morrisonn capped the rally with goal at 0:59 of overtime. It marked just the second time in Rangers history they had not won a home game when leading 4-0.

Jan. 6: Facing a Philadelphia Flyers team that had eliminated them in the first round of the 2008 Stanley Cup Playoffs and beaten them decisively in their only previous 2008-09 meeting, the Capitals turned the tables with a 2-1 shootout victory. The victory was Washington's 12th in the past 13 games and their 18th in the past 20. Goaltender Jose Theodore stopped 33 shots and all three shootout attempts to record the victory.

Jan. 14: Three months after staging a dramatic third-period comeback at Pittsburgh's Mellon Arena, the Capitals did it again in their second and final visit of the regular season. Alex Ovechkin tallied two goals and an assist - all in the third period - as the Capitals rallied for a 6-3 victory and snapped a three-game losing streak.

Pittsburgh Penguins

NHL Playoff Appearance: 23rd (third consecutive)
Stanley Cups: 2 (1991, 1992)
All-Time Playoff Series Record: 24-21
All-Time Playoff Game Record: 128-111

Key Acquisitions

Nov. 16: Acquired D Philippe Boucher from Dallas for D Darryl Sydor.

Jan. 17: Acquired G Mathieu Garon from Edmonton for G Dany Sabourin, C Ryan Stone and a 4th-round pick in the 2011 Entry Draft.

Feb. 26: Acquired LW Chris Kunitz and LW Eric Tangradi from Anaheim for D Ryan Whitney.

Mar. 4: Acquired RW Bill Guerin from NY Islanders for a conditional pick in the 2009 Entry Draft.

Mar. 4: Claimed RW Craig Adams on waivers from Chicago.

Season Highlights

The Penguins qualified for the playoffs for the third straight season. Having appeared in the 2008 Stanley Cup Final, Pittsburgh attempts to become the first repeat finalist since New Jersey won the Stanley Cup in 2000 and lost in the 2001 Final to Colorado. The Pens went 18-3-4 after Dan Bylsma replaced Michel Therrien as head coach on Feb. 15, surging from 10th place in the Eastern Conference.

C Sidney Crosby began the season in milestone, hat trick fashion and ended it soaring. He scored his 100th NHL goal, recorded his 200th assist and his 300th point all in the same game, Oct. 18 vs. Toronto. The Pens’ 21-year-old captain also recorded a point in 16 consecutive games in which he played -- nine goals, 18 assists -- from Feb. 16 through Apr. 1. With two goals at Tampa Bay on Apr. 7, Crosby eclipsed the 30-goal and 100-point marks for the third time in four NHL seasons.

C Evgeni Malkin followed up his brilliant 2007-08 season with another Hart Trophy-contending year. His 113 points and 78 assists, both career-highs, led the NHL, making him the eighth player to win the Art Ross Trophy in the last eight seasons. Lethal on the power play (14 goals), Malkin was the League’s most productive even-strength player, amassing an NHL-high 70 even-strength points. He recorded his 300th career point in his 240th NHL game on Apr. 7 vs. Tampa Bay, tied a career-high with a five-point (2-3--5) game Mar. 17 vs. Atlanta and had four other four-point games.

Trades for LW Chris Kunitz and RW Bill Guerin in the week leading up to the Mar. 4 trade deadline bolstered the Penguins’ depth up front. Kunitz, acquired from Anaheim Feb. 26, scored seven goals with 11 assists in 20 games as a Penguin. Guerin, acquired from the NY Islanders Mar. 4, had 12 points in 17 games after the trade.

D Sergei Gonchar, who had missed the first four months recovering from shoulder surgery, made his 2008-09 debut Feb. 14, immediately energizing the Pittsburgh power play. Clicking at just a 16.2 percent success rate without him, the Pens’ PP scored on 19.3 percent of its chances (22 for 114) upon his return. Of Gonchar’s 19 points, 13 came on the power play. Jumping right back into the role of the team’s No. 1 defenseman, Gonchar led the Pens in average ice time (25:11).

When G Marc-Andre Fleury’s game soared, so did the Pens’ position in the standings. The 24-year-old who backstopped Pittsburgh to the 2008 Final went 9-1-2 with a 1.87 goals against average and .938 save percentage in March. He started 19 straight games from Feb. 3 through Mar. 10, going 12-4-3. With 111 career victories, Fleury trails only Tom Barrasso (226) on the franchise’s goaltending wins list.

Key Wins

Oct. 4: The Penguins opened defense of their Eastern Conference championship with a 4-3 overtime victory over the Ottawa Senators at a sold-out Globe Arena in Stockholm. Penguins forward Tyler Kennedy scored with 25 seconds remaining in the extra period to win the first regular-season game ever played in Sweden. Kennedy also had opened the scoring at the 0:40 mark of the first period.

Nov. 11: Facing the Detroit Red Wings for the first time since the 2008 Stanley Cup Final -- and former teammate Marian Hossa for the first time in a Red Wings uniform -- the Penguins posted a wild 7-6 comeback victory at Joe Louis Arena. Jordan Staal scored a hat trick in the third period and set up the overtime winner by Ruslan Fedotenko as the Penguins overcame deficits of 3-1, 5-2 and 6-4.

Feb. 4: The Penguins trailed the Tampa Bay Lightning 3-0 entering the third period but turned the tables on their visitors with a rally that culminated with Evgeni Malkin's game-winning goal with 15.5 seconds remaining in overtime. "You always look back at seasons, and turning points, and hopefully this is one for us," captain Sidney Crosby said.

Feb. 21: Sidney Crosby scored his second goal of the game to break a tie with 2:15 left in regulation as Pittsburgh defeated the Philadelphia Flyers 5-4, ending the Penguins' five-game winless drought on the road. It marked the second consecutive game in which the Penguins had surrendered a two-goal lead in the third period but rebounded to win.

Apr. 7: The Penguins clinched a playoff berth for the third consecutive season with a 6-4 victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning. Captain Sidney Crosby scored a pair of goals 1:04 apart in the second period to join teammate Evgeni Malkin as 100-point scorers -- the first time two Pittsburgh players have reached the century mark in the same season since Mario Lemieux (161) and Jaromir Jagr (149) in 1995-96.
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