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Penguins shrug off rivalry talk

by Sam Kasan
PITTSBURGH -- Sidney Crosby summed up his approach to the much anticipated one-on-one showdown with Alex Ovechkin when Pittsburgh meets the Washington Capitals in the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.

"We're competitors," 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. A lot is made about me and him, but the goal is to win the series. It's not about me and him."

But of course, the media will make this series about Crosby and Ovechkin, or Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin, or Crosby and Alexander Semin, etc. There is enough side drama to fuel this series that even Capitals head coach Bruce Boudreau said: "Welcome to the circus."

"I know they hear a lot of it and I'm sure there's a rivalry there," defenseman Brooks Orpik said of Crosby and Ovechkin. "It's funny how it's portrayed through the media. For whatever reason, it's always Sid and Ovechkin linked up. I think those are just two competitive guys and people make more out of it than it should be. It's just them being competitive. I think as much as the media debates it, that only fuels it."

Even Ovechkin downplayed the attention he and Crosby usually receive when they play against each other.

"Let's talk about Pittsburgh and the Capitals," Ovechkin after Thursday's practice. "Let's not talk about me and Crosby. It's going to be a good rivalry, but it's about the Capitals and Pittsburgh."

Both teams are aware of the drama that goes into any typical playoff series. But the intensity should be amplified between these two teams.

"It's a big rivalry," Crosby said. "Between myself and Ovechkin, Geno and Semin, (Nicklas) Backstrom and (Jordan) Staal, (Mike) Green and (Sergei) Gonchar, there are a lot of guys who've made an impact in the league and you have two teams full of them."

"We have a lot of special, young players, not just two or three," Penguins head coach Dan Bylsma said. "We have a bunch and to get them going head-to-head against each other is an amazing thing. It's amazing because they have great personalities and they have a face that we can recognize, and they are fantastic hockey talents on teams that play a high energetic game. It makes for great entertainment. Putting aside all of our emotions and who we want to win, it makes for a great story, it makes for great media and it makes for a great product."

This series should garner much attention and has all the ingredients for a memorable battle: two historically rivaled hockey cities with a past of postseason contests; two teams stacked and loaded with talented players; two energetic and hungry fan bases; and arguably the four best players in the world.

Now, throw in a serious dislike between the two squads and a few verbal spats and you have the NHL's dream series. All eyes will be on the "circus."

"With this matchup with the star attraction that we have will bring more attention maybe than a different matchup for us so these guys are prepared for it," Bylsma said. "As coaches and our staff we do our best to make this appear and feel like an ordinary series and an ordinary day. We try to make it as normal as possible and we do our best as a staff, and as coaches to make sure that we deal with the circus and not make the players deal with it."

And that's one of the Penguins' goals: remaining focused on the task at hand while ignoring all the distractions and sideshows.

"We're playing Washington now in the second round and I'm playing my game. I'm not thinking about the trophy."
-- Evgeni Malkin on his Hart Trophy nomination

"It's healthy and something that will push you but it can't get in the way of your focus and what you have to do," Crosby said. "That's part of the playoffs, making sure that throughout seven games – or whatever it is – your focus is on what it needs to be on. There are things that happen because it's a playoff series. It will be under the microscope because of the situation. But the playoffs are the playoffs. They're as intense as it is. You have to be ready for that no matter what team you play against. The goal and the mindset doesn't change."

Even Malkin shrugged off the idea of his first nomination for the Hart Trophy as league MVP to remain focused on Washington.

"It's good, a good season," Malkin said. "But I'm not thinking about it. We're playing Washington now in the second round and I'm playing my game. I'm not thinking about the trophy."

Plus, the Penguins have some past experience in dealing with the heightened attention and atmosphere from their Stanley Cup run last season.

Pittsburgh Penguins Playoff Gear"I think these players understand it better than most and have fortunately been apart of experiencing it as well," Bylsma said. "You go to the finals and it gets ratcheted up to a whole new level than the first three rounds of the playoffs. So, these guys have experience with some of the circus, as we are calling it now. It's not as big as the final was for these players last year so they have some experience. It's a little bit less of a show.

"The possibility for a distraction to our players is probably greater to the players that aren't involved in the talk and the rhetoric and the media attention. The media attention for Alex Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin isn't going to be a new thing. They have dealt with it over and over and over again and they know how to deal with it. Our job as coaches and our players' jobs when they go on the ice is to focus on doing what we need to do and let's not worry about the other stuff."
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