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Greatest show on ice set to open

by Mike G. Morreale / NHL.com

"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."
-- Sidney Crosby on going up against Alex Ovechkin and the Capitals

WASHINGTON -- 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 quite 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. It's a series with so much star power and appeal that it could set a television ratings bonanza -- why else would NBC wait until Saturday afternoon for the opening act?

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 a rinkful of 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 near the players' 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 versus Semin and Green versus 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 Gordons, the David Steckels and the Brooks Laichs' of the world will play a huge part in this series. Even though Ovie and Crosby will be a tremendous subplot, there's a much bigger picture."

Another interesting sidebar in this series will be specialty teams. The Capitals had the No. 2 power play in the NHL during the season with a success rate of 25.2 percent, but that dropped to 18.1 percent (6-for-33) in their seven-game triumph over the 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."

Contact Mike Morreale at mmorreale@nhl.com.

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