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Crosby vs. Ovechkin/Malkin Takes Center Stage as Canada Battles Russia

by Jason Seidling / Pittsburgh Penguins
When the 2010 Winter Olympics began the Penguins had a contingent of five representing their home countries. By the end of Wednesday’s quarterfinal round, a maximum of three Penguins will be left to compete for a gold medal.

At least two Penguins will be going home much earlier than expected when Sidney Crosby and Marc-Andre Fleury’s Canadian squad go head-to-head with Evgeni Malkin, Sergei Gonchar and the high-octane Russian attack in a primetime matchup at 7:30 p.m. on CNBC. Canada blew out Germany on Tuesday, 8-2, in a qualification round matchup.

Brooks Orpik and the top-seeded Americans begin the day with a 3 p.m. rematch with Switzerland, who squeaked out a 3-2 shootout win over Belarus on Tuesday. That contest will be nationally broadcast on NBC.

In the other two quarterfinal matchups, Finland-Czech Republic drop the puck at 10 p.m. on CNBC while Sweden-Slovakia do battle at 11:55 p.m., also on CNBC.

The United States opened the 2010 Games by turning the Swiss aside, 3-1, on Feb. 16. They remain the lone team to defeat the Swiss in regulation. Since dropping their opener to the Americans, Switzerland nearly pulled off a major upset against Canada before losing, 3-2, in a shootout on a Crosby tally; defeated Norway, 5-4 in overtime, in their final preliminary game; and downed Belarus, 5-3, in the qualification round on Tuesday.

This will be the Americans’ first game since goaltender Ryan Miller made 42 saves, Brian Rafalski scored twice and Orpik did a remarkable job teaming with partner Jack Johnson against Crosby in a stunning 5-3 win over the Canadians on Sunday night.

If the Americans take care of business against the Swiss they will meet the winner of Finland-Czech Republic on Friday in the semifinal round.

Despite all the red, white and blue pride reigning through the U.S. thanks to the surprising success of the Americans, the matchup drawing the most attention throughout the hockey world on Wednesday is Canada-Russia.

Penguins fans are quite familiar with the mega talents taking the ice in this bitter rivalry. In fact, they could be forgiven if this contest was mistaken for a high-stakes Penguins-Capitals matchup.

Actually, other than Malkin calling Alex Ovechkin his teammate rather than Crosby, and a 6-foot-4 Staal from Peterborough being named Eric instead of Jordan, this game features all the same elements seen when Pittsburgh and Washington square off.

Nine months and 11 days have past since Crosby bested Ovechkin in the first-ever winner-take-all matchup between the superstars many observers consider the top two players on the planet. On that night, Crosby scored twice as the Penguins eliminated the Capitals in Game 7 of the 2009 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals with a 6-2 victory.

Certainly Ovechkin, along with Russian teammate Alexander Semin, who also skates for the Capitals, still have a bitter taste in their mouths from that defeat. They would love nothing more than to make Crosby feel the pain they felt last spring.

But there is a reason Crosby is the captain of the defending Stanley Cup champions. When the stakes are raised, the Nova Scotia native usually rises to the occasion. And it’s not like Crosby won’t have motivation on his side as well.

Pittsburgh and Washington have met twice this season, with Ovechkin’s Capitals prevailing both times in two of the most entertaining regular-season contests in years. While Crosby has posted three goals in those two games, Ovechkin has torched the Penguins for seven points (5G-2A).

Although Ovechkin looked very good playing on a line with Malkin against the Czech Republic, he has not found the back of the net since tallying twice in Russia’s opening game against Norway.

Crosby, on the other hand, has picked up points in all four games, including a current three-game goal scoring streak. The 22-year-old center is tied with Jarome Iginla for the tournament lead with six points (3G-3A).

Crosby and the Canadians struggled against the Americans on Sunday, but looked much sharper against the Germans on Tuesday. Canadian head coach Mike Babcock once again switched up his lines in that contest, reuniting Crosby and Iginla, with Staal flanking the other side.

Babcock’s new top line dominated the offensive zone, combining for six points as Iginla scored twice, Crosby once and Staal added three assists.

Russia appears to have righted their ship as well following a 2-1 shootout loss to Slovakia on Feb. 18. Following that game, Russia head coach Slava Bykov did some line shuffling of his own.

When the Russians took the ice against the Czech Republic on Sunday, Malkin and Ovechkin found themselves skating on the same unit. Semin joined them as the third member.

Uniting the Nos. 1-2 leading scorers from the past two NHL seasons proved wonders as Malkin starred with two goals, including the game-winner in the third period, and an assist. The reigning scoring champion ranks third on the tournament scoring chart with five points (3G-2A) in three games.

This will be the first time Malkin and Crosby have gone head-to-head since Malkin joined the Penguins prior to the 2006-07 season. They would have met in the 2007 World Championships, but Crosby sat that tournament out with a broken foot.

With so much star power on a singular ice surface and the extreme bitterness which surrounds Russia-Canada, fans are in for yet another treat on Wednesday night. Considering the action the first eight days of the tournament, that’s saying a lot.

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