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Ovechkin, Capitals anticipate challenge vs. Penguins

Washington captain prepared to play Crosby, Pittsburgh in playoffs for first time since 2009

by Tom Gulitti @tomgulittinhl / Staff Writer

ARLINGTON, Va. -- Alex Ovechkin kept talking Tuesday about the challenge ahead for his Washington Capitals in the Eastern Conference Second Round.

Despite all the hype about he and Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby going head-to-head in the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the second time, Ovechkin's focus is on the bigger picture of finally getting out of the second round and moving on to, hopefully, winning the Cup.

So Ovechkin quickly cuts off any suggestion that this series will be about him and Crosby.

"It's all about the Caps and the Penguins," Ovechkin said.

Ovechkin is correct. He happens to be the face of the Capitals, as Crosby is the face of the Penguins, but each team is stacked with talent.

Ovechkin plays with Nicklas Backstrom T.J. Oshie, Evgeny Kuznetsov and Braden Holtby, to name a few. Crosby has plenty of support with Evgeni Malkin, Phil Kessel, Patric Hornqvist and Kris Letang.

Video: Capitals/Penguins round 2 series preview

The Capitals won the Presidents' Trophy as the NHL's best regular-season team with 120 points and defeated the Philadelphia Flyers in six games in the first round. The Penguins have been the NHL's hottest team, going 33-8-5 over their final 46 regular-season games and then defeating the New York Rangers in five games in the first round.

"It's going to be very interesting and a very important challenge for us because I think we're ready to take a big step and we have to beat Pittsburgh," Ovechkin said. "We're going to try our best. This team is ready and I think everybody can't wait until Game 1 starts."

Game 1 at Verizon Center on Thursday (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, TVA Sports) and Ovechkin is eager for it to begin. He understands players get a limited number of these opportunities over the course of their career.

At age 30, Ovechkin isn't exactly a graybeard, but with each year his now salt-and-pepper hair is growing more salty. It was all black back in 2009, when the Capitals and the Penguins last met in the playoffs.

Ovechkin was 23 then and Crosby was 21, and that second-round series appeared to have the potential be the first of many memorable postseason showdowns between two of the NHL's biggest stars. It was a seven-game battle, and Ovechkin and Crosby both lived up to their billing. Ovechkin had eight goals and six assists. Crosby had eight goals and five assists.

The Capitals won the first two games with Ovechkin and Crosby each getting a hat trick in a 4-3 Washington victory in Game 2. The Penguins won the next three games, twice in overtime, before the Capitals prevailed in overtime in Game 6 in Pittsburgh to force a Game 7 back in Washington.

Video: 2009 Round 2, Gm2: Ovechkin, Crosby double hat-tricks

With Crosby scoring two goals and assisting on another, the Penguins won 6-2 and went on to defeat the Detroit Red Wings in the Stanley Cup Final.

"That's one that was a big one in that run," Crosby said Monday. "We were able to pull it out there in the road. It's the past. It's been awhile now, but it was definitely a great memory."

It's taken seven years for the Capitals and Penguins to cross paths again in the playoffs. Crosby went through injury troubles, and the Penguins have made it past the second round once since then, in 2013 when they were swept by the Boston Bruins in the Eastern Conference Final.

Ovechkin and the Capitals have continued to struggle to get out of the second round but appear to have all the pieces in place this season for their best chance to win the Stanley Cup. It just so happens that Crosby and the Penguins are standing in their way again.

"It's going to be two good teams playing against each other in the second round and that's good for us," Ovechkin said. "That's good for everybody. I'm looking forward to it. They're a great team, have great players and it's a challenge."

Ovechkin said he's more mature now and seems to appreciate where he is in his career and where he has yet to go. Getting there is what is important.

"I think when you're young, you think that it's going to happen every year and so you've got lots of time," Capitals coach Barry Trotz said. "As you get older, you realize how special these times are and how hard you have to work to get these opportunities and when these opportunities go by I think you recognize that there's less and less opportunities to look forward to as you get older."

As Trotz said, "30 is not old," but this is Ovechkin's 11th season in the NHL. He's been around long enough and seen enough to know there are no guarantees in this game.

That neither he nor Crosby has been close to winning the Stanley Cup since 2009 is evidence of that.

"Seven years, it's a long time ago," Ovechkin said. "It's history and I don't like to look back. I'm looking forward. Whatever was in the past, it's over. Right now, it's a new challenge and a new moment in our life."

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