- The Washington Times - Friday, May 1, 2009

No. 4 PITTSBURGH PENGUINS vs. No. 2 WASHINGTON CAPITALS

THREE REASONS THE PENGUINS CAN WIN

1. EXPERIENCE

The Capitals’ young core has won seven Stanley Cup playoff games. Pittsburgh’s guys have won 19, coming within two victories of capturing a Stanley Cup last season. How the teams handle the hype and frenzy surrounding this series could play a part in what unfolds on the ice. In the past year, the Penguins have had two series against their biggest rivals, the Philadelphia Flyers, and the exposure to last year’s finals against Detroit.

2. SIDNEY CROSBY

Love him or hate him - it is pretty clear the fans at Verizon Center are part of the latter group - Crosby has proved he will carry his team in the postseason. He was tied for the NHL lead in playoff scoring last season and is one point behind teammate Evgeni Malkin this year. Alex Ovechkin and Malkin might provide the sizzle, but it could be Crosby and/or Nicklas Backstrom’s defensive work that turns this series.

3. HISTORY

This will be the franchises’ eighth meeting in the playoffs; six times the Penguins have prevailed. The names on the backs of the jerseys have changed, but the ones on the front have not. Think Caps fans were restless when their team was tied 1-1 with the Rangers in Game 7 — what happens if Washington falls behind Pittsburgh 2-0 at Verizon? The players might say it doesn’t matter, but that “here we go again” feeling of pending doom could show up at some point in the next two weeks.

THREE REASONS THE CAPS CAN WIN

1. OFFENSIVE DEPTH

Sure, the Penguins have Malkin and Crosby, two of the league’s top three scorers this season. But the Caps have more offensive depth behind Ovechkin. Either Backstrom or Alexander Semin is better than Pittsburgh’s No. 3 guy (either Bill Guerin or Chris Kunitz). Mike Green had a better offensive year than Sergei Gonchar. Sergei Fedorov, Brooks Laich and Viktor Kozlov can provide more punch. Even adding Chris Clark could be a boost. For the Penguins, Petr Sykora has gone AWOL, which hurts their forward depth.

2. RECENT RESULTS

There is plenty of negative history for the Caps when it comes to playing Pittsburgh, but they have been the better team in the series since Bruce Boudreau came along. Washington is 4-1-2 against Pittsburgh with Boudreau in charge, and the one regulation loss came when Backstrom put the puck in his own net with less than a minute to play last season. The Penguins have not handled Boudreau’s aggressive style well, yielding 28 goals in six games.

3. SIMEON VARLAMOV

The kid has allowed seven goals in six games. It is hard for a team to lose four times in a seven-game series if its goaltender is allowing barely more than one goal a game. Granted, the Caps managed to lose twice to the Rangers with Varlamov in net, and the Penguins should provide a much stiffer challenge, but the 21-year-old Russian has been unflappable. Varlamov and Pittsburgh counterpart Marc-Andre Fleury are going to give up goals, but how they bounce back will play a major role in the series’ outcome.

Penguins lines

FORWARDS

First line

Chris Kunitz

Sidney Crosby

Bill Guerin

Second line

Ruslan Fedotenko

Evgeni Malkin

Max Talbot

Third line

Matt Cooke

Jordan Staal

Tyler Kennedy

Fourth line

Pascal Dupuis

Craig Adams

Miroslav Satan

DEFENSEMEN

First pair

Brooks Orpik

Sergei Gonchar

Second pair

Hall Gill

Rob Scuderi

Third pair

Mark Eaton

Kris Letang

GOALIES

Marc-Andre Fleury

Mathieu Garon

Extras: Petr Sykora, Eric Godard, Philippe Boucher

SPOTLIGHT ON:

Penguins D Sergei Gonchar

He serves many roles for the Penguins and plays in all situations, and he was a key figure in helping the team reverse its course about the time Dan Bylsma became coach. Gonchar is going to hear it from the fans at Verizon Center every time he touches the puck. It is possible the team’s big guns up front will cancel one another out, so if Gonchar were to outplay Mike Green, it could have a big impact.

Capitals lines

FORWARDS

First line

Alex Ovechkin

Sergei Fedorov

Viktor Kozlov

Second line

Tomas Fleischmann

Nicklas Backstrom

Alexander Semin

Third line

Brooks Laich

David Steckel

Matt Bradley

Fourth line

Chris Clark

Boyd Gordon

Eric Fehr

DEFENSEMEN

First pair

Shaone Morrisonn

Mike Green

Second pair

Tom Poti

Milan Jurcina

Third pair

John Erskine

Brian Pothier

GOALIES

Simeon Varlamov

Jose Theodore

Extras: Michael Nylander, Donald Brashear, Jeff Schultz

SPOTLIGHT ON:

Capitals C Nicklas Backstrom

Much of the attention is going to focus on Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Alex Ovechkin and Alexander Semin. What are they going to say? How much are they going to hit one another? Backstrom is the guy outside those four who can take over this series with his play and shift the balance dramatically in Washington’s favor. Don’t think that Semin’s five goals in the first series didn’t have something to do with having No. 19 skating next to him.

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