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Pittsburgh vs. Washington Series Preview

by Sam Kasan / Pittsburgh Penguins


THE FUNDAMENTALS
Pittsburgh Penguins (45-28-9-99) vs. Washington Capitals (50-24-8-108)

Game 1: Saturday, May 2 at Washington, 1 p.m. (NBC broadcast)
Game 2:
Monday, May 4 at Washington, 7 p.m. (Versus broadcast)
Game 3:
Wednesday, May 6 at Pittsburgh, 7 p.m. (Versus broadcast)
Game 4:
Friday, May 8 at Pittsburgh, 7 p.m. (FSN Pittsburgh)
*Game 5:
Saturday, May 9 at Washington, 7 p.m. (FSN Pittsburgh)
*Game 6:
Monday, May 11 at Pittsburgh, TBD (FSN Pittsburgh)
*Game 7:
Wednesday, May 13 at Washington, 7 p.m. (FSN Pittsburgh)
*If necessary

Radio:
WXDX Radio, FM 105.9 (All games)
TV:
NBC will air Game 1
Versus Network with air Games 2 and 3
FSN Pittsburgh will air Games 4, 5, 6 and 7. The games will be broadcast in HD, available on Armstrong 179, Atlantic Broadband 782, Citizen 737, Comcast 226/774, DISH 428, DirecTV 659 and Verizon Fios 576.

Season Series:
Pittsburgh 1-3-0; Washington 3-0-1
In Pittsburgh:
Pittsburgh 0-2-0; Washington 2-0-0
In Washington:
Pittsburgh 1-1-0; Washington 1-0-1
Top Series Scorers:
Pittsburgh, Sidney Crosby (1+6=7); Washington, 3 tied with 6 points (Alex Ovechkin, 4+2; Alexander Semin, 3+3; Laich, 2+4).

Game-by-Game Results:

Oct. 16 at Pittsburgh: Capitals 4, Penguins 3
Jan. 14 at Pittsburgh: Capitals 6, Penguins 3
Feb. 22 at Washington: Capitals 5, Penguins 2
March 8 at Washington: Penguins 4, Capitals 3 SO
 
PENGUINS PROJECTED LINES CAPITALS PROJECTED LINES
Forwards
Guerin-Crosby-Kunitz
Fedotenko-Malkin-Talbot
Cooke-Staal-Kennedy
Dupuis-Adams-Satan
(Godard)

Defense
Orpik-Gonchar
Eaton-Letang
Gill-Scuderi
(Boucher)

Netminder
Fleury
Forwards
Ovechkin-Federov-Kozlov
Fleischmann-Backstrom-Semin
Bradley-Steckel-Laich
Clark-Gordon-Fehr
(Nylander, Brashear)

Defense
Morrisonn-Green
Pothier-Erskine
Poti-Jurcina
(Shultz)

Netminder
Varlamov
 
TALE OF THE TAPE

Pittsburgh   Washington
45-28-9 Record 50-24-8
99
Points 108
25-13-3
Home
29-9-3
20-15-6 Road
21-15-5
264 Goals For
272
239 Goals Against
245
17.2% (20) Power Play (rank)
25.2% (2)
82.7% (8) Penalty Kill (rank)
80.6% (17)
Malkin, 113* Scoring Leader
110, Ovechkin
Malkin, 35 Goal Leader
56*, Ovechkin
Malkin, 78* Assist Leader
66, Backstrom
Fleury, 35 Wins Leader 32, Theodore
Malkin, 9# Playoff Leader 8, Semin

* Led NHL
# Leads NHL
 
LOWDOWN ON THE CAPITALS
The Washington Capitals are back-to-back Southeast Division champions. Head coach Bruce Boudreau, in his first full season steering the ship, guided Washington to the second-best record in the Eastern Conference. Boudreau was last season’s Jack Adams Award winner - Coach of the Year - after taking over the team in late November and leading the Capitals in one of the most dramatic midseason turnarounds in recent history - from the worst record in the league to a division title and playoff berth.

On the current campaign, Washington played well through the first two months of the season and then exploded in December, going 11-3-0 and surging in the standings. After a 9-3-1 mark in February, Washington was threatening to overtake the Boston Bruins for the top spot in the conference. Though they never did top the Bruins, Washington still won 50 games for the first time in over 20 years (1985-86) and set a franchise record with 108 points on the campaign.
 
POSTSEASON RECAP
The Capitals first-round triumph over the New York Rangers was filled with suspense and drama. Washington overcame a 3-1 deficit in the series to pull out three straight wins and advance to the Eastern Conference Semifinals.

The Rangers took Game 1, 4-3, and coach Boudreau responded with a bold and gutsy move. Boudreau replaced his starting goaltender, Jose Theodore, with 20/21-year-old rookie Simeon Varlamov. The Russian netminder had only played in six NHL games prior to getting the nod for Game 2. Varlamov had an impressive debut with 23 saves and allowing only one goal. However, the Rangers still triumphed, 1-0.

But soon the series would tilt in Washington’s favor as Varlamov stole the spotlight. He went 4-2 with a 1.17 goals-against average, .952 save percentage and two shutouts. Boudreau’s risky gamble paid off big time.
 
FORWARDS
What else is there to say about Alex Ovechkin that hasn’t already been said? He’s the league’s biggest diva with his tinted visor, long hair and flashy celebrations. What’s more, he has his own clothing line (seriously, check it out at oviestyle.com). But the man simply brings it on the ice. He walked away with four trophies last season - Hart, Lester B. Pearson, Art Ross and Maurice Richard - after posting 112 points with 65 goals and 47 assists. He finished second in the NHL (behind Evgeni Malkin) with 110 points this year on 56 tallies and 54 assists. He’s a threat every time the puck is on his stick. Ovechkin shoots from impossible angles and is the deadliest sniper in the league, evidenced by his league-leading 56 goals.

Nicklas Backstrom (Getty)
Alexander Semin is a legitimate all-world caliber player. He would get more attention if Ovechkin weren’t on his team. The former first-round pick (13th overall, 2002) was off to a phenomenal start this season. Semin led the NHL with 13 goals and 14 assists for 27 points in his first 16 games and was staking his claim as the best player in the league. Then he suffered a muscle strain in his side and missed 12 games. After returning, Semin contributed over a point-per-game (1.13) and compiled 34 goals and 45 assists for 79 points on the season. He leads the Capitals in goals (5), points (8) and plus-minus rating (+5) in the postseason.

Nicklas Backstrom finished his second NHL season after posting 69 points in his rookie campaign. He was a runner-up for the Calder Trophy and has improved dramatically during his sophomore campaign. Backstrom finished second on the team with 88 points with 22 goals and 66 assists. He has developed into one of the best setup men in the game and his 66 helpers were the third most in the NHL (behind Malkin and Sidney Crosby). 

There is a drop off after the Big Three. Only two other forwards topped the 40-point mark on the team: Brooks Laich (53) and Viktor Kozlov (41). Although, one player to keep an eye on is Sergei Fedorov. The veteran forward scored 33 points (11+22) in 52 games of an injury riddled season. Fedorov looks rejuvenated after being paired with Ovechkin. He has one goal and three assists in his last five games, including the game-winning third-period tally in Game 7 against the Rangers.
 
DEFENSEMEN
Washington’s offense gets a lot of the attention - and deservedly so - but the defense is one of the most underrated units in the league. The team could always score but it was their defensive improvement that catapulted their turnaround last season. Mike Green is one of the deadliest scoring defenseman in the league. Last season, the 23-year-old Calgary native recorded 18 goals and 38 assists for 56 points. Green tied that output through his first 53 games. He ended the year with an eye-popping 73 points and 31 goals (both NHL-best totals).

The Capitals have suffered various injuries to their blue line through the year but are relatively healthy now. Tom Poti, an offensively gifted defenseman, looks more comfortable since returning from a midseason groin injury. Brian Pothier (concussion), Jeff Schultz (finger/hand) and John Erskine (concussion) joined Poti on injured reserve at different junctures of the season. With the injuries, players like Bryan Helmer, Milan Jurcina, Shaone Morrisonn, Tyler Sloan and Karl Alzner played quality minutes. Currently only Shultz (day-to-day, upper body injury) is hurt.
 
GOALTENDING
Varlamov (Getty)
Simeon Varlamov is no doubt the best story of the playoffs so far. He was the team’s first-round pick (23rd overall) in 2006. He was the goalie of the future, but it looks like the future may be now. Just two months ago, Varlamov was a 20-year-old top goaltender prospect playing for the Hershey Bears in the AHL. Now, he’s the Capitals’ starting netminder in the Stanley Cup playoffs.

Varlamov was called up to Washington and assumed the backup goalie role after Brent Johnson suffered a hip injury. He made five starts during the season, posting a 4-0-1 mark, 2.37 goals-against average and .918 save percentage. But he has really shined in the postseason after getting the start in Game 2 against the Rangers. Varlamov stole the series for Washington with his impressive play. He celebrated his 21st birthday Monday and Tuesday he eliminated New York in Game 7.

It’s been a rocky season for former league MVP and Vezina Trophy winner Jose Theodore. The former Canadien and Avalanche netminder was hoping to resurrect his career after a few shaky seasons. Theodore went 32-17-5 with a 2.87 goals-against average and .900 save percentage. But he was yanked from the opening-round series after allowing four goals in a Game 1 loss to New York.
 
POINT OF INTEREST
The Penguins and Capitals will meet in the postseason for the eighth time in the history of the two franchises. Neither team has faced another opponent that many times in their respective postseason histories.

The Penguins and Capitals met the previous seven times during an 11-year span from 1991-2001. Pittsburgh is 6-1 in the all-time matchup. Their last meeting was in 2001 in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals when Pittsburgh triumphed, 4-2.

Year, Results
1991, Pittsburgh, 4-1*
1992, Pittsburgh, 4-3*
1994, Washington, 4-2
1995, Pittsburgh, 4-3
1996, Pittsburgh, 4-2
2000, Pittsburgh, 4-1
2001, Pittsburgh, 4-2

*Won Stanley Cup
 

Author: Sam Kasan


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