Grab your No. 2 pencils for our previews of the 2009 Stanley Cup playoffs' second round, featuring an academic format and the sort of useless knowledge you'd otherwise expect from a pop quiz.
So, after four seasons, it's finally here: Crosby v. Ovechkin. While Gretzky and Lemieux never faced each other in the playoffs (Thanks a lot, David Volek), the current two superstars carrying the National Hockey League's marketing department have built up a nice inter-conference rivalry for themselves in the 15 times they've faced each other since coming into the league during the 2005-06 season.
It's almost as if the NHL planned it to happen that way! (/Rangers and Flyers fan'd!)
The Washington-Pittsburgh rivalry was fierce in the mid-1990's, then Jaromir Jagr died on the inside and things were reheated at the turn of the century when he moved to Washington for a bit. It was when both Crosby and Ovechkin entered the league and both teams turned around their fortunes that the hate between both teams (and fan bases) was rekindled.
When Alex Semin uttered the phrase, "What's so special about [Crosby]?" to Puck Daddy's own Dmitry Chesnokov back in November, the rivalry escalated quicker than a fight between warring news channels (minus the tridents, of course).
Now, it's down to the best-of-7 games between the two. It's likely to get incredibly physical, personal, and most importantly insanely fun to watch.
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Caps and Pens expert, you say? I got a pop quiz for you, sunshine.
Washington Capitals (2) vs. Pittsburgh Penguins (4)
Saturday, May 2 at Washington, 1:00 p.m. NBC, CBC, RDS
Monday, May 4 at Washington, 7:00 p.m. VERSUS, CBC, RDS
Wed., May 6 at Pittsburgh, 7:00 p.m. VERSUS, CBC, RDS
Friday, May 8 at Pittsburgh, 7:00 p.m. VERSUS, CBC, RDS
*Sat., May 9 at Washington, 7:00 p.m. VERSUS, CBC, RDS
*Monday, May 11 at Pittsburgh, TBD VERSUS, CBC, RDS
*Wed., May 13 at Washington, 7:00 p.m. VERSUS, CBC, RDS
1. The Washington Capitals defense might be in trouble because:
A. Jeff Schultz' ankles might still be down at the far end of Verizon Center.
B. Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin (17 points combined in Round One) show no signs of slowing down and the vitriol that will be thrown toward Crosby's way will only make him play better. Just ask Philadelphia.
C. The Penguins love for dumping the puck in, aggressively fore-checking, and cycling the puck non-stop could be too much for them to handle.
D. Mike Green might still be asleep. If he doesn't wake up offensively, Washington could be in trouble.
2. The Washington Capitals might have the advantage at forward because:
A. Outside of the big boys (Crosby, Malkin, Ovechkin, Semin), Washington's secondary scoring production really helped them buoy the comeback against New York. Secondary scoring is important to keep the pressure off the big boys and should the Matt Bradleys, Viktor Kozlovs, Sergei Fedorovs, and Brooks Laichs continue to support the offense, then Washington will have a chance.
B. The Penguins may not have the scoring depth on a consistent basis, but guys like Maxime Talbot, Ruslan Fedotenko, Tyler Kennedy, and Pascal Dupuis have scored important goals for the team in the past.
D. Donald Brashear will do his best to intimidate the Penguins players from the press box.
3. The Pittsburgh Penguins might have the advantage on defense because:
A. Sergei Gonchar's return in February vaunted a defense that was in need of its quarterback. His leadership, offense ability, and defensive awareness really supported his blue line brothers. He was also second among all players in ice-time during the first-round.
B. Mark Eaton tied his career high in goals this season with four and scored two against Philadelphia in the first-round. Who knew the formerly oft-injured Delaware native was such a gunslinger?
C. When the post-season comes along, Brooks Orpik really enjoys handing out the "Free Candy."
D. Between Rob Scuderi, Hal Gill and Brooks Orpik, the defense corps has some gamers and they aren't afraid to risk their limbs to block a shot. Pittsburgh has four defensemen (Gill-13, Orpik-13, Eaton-12, Gonch-11) in the top thirty of blocked shots while Shaone Morrison is the lone Capital with 14.
4. The Pittsburgh Penguins might have the advantage between the pipes because:
A. Simeon Varlamov's 4-2 record in the playoffs is impressive, but was against the New York Rangers, who would have a hard time scoring on a Minnesota Vikings boat party.
B. Sitting on the bench, Mathieu Garon's confidence might be a tad higher than Jose Theodore's at the moment, even if the former Edmonton Oiler hasn't played twice since mid-March.
C. Washington has too many player names closely related to the special ingredient in the cocktail of life.
D. Fleury has done this before. He knows what to expect and how to pace himself at this point in the season. He has the ability to carry a game and has a penchant for a game changing save almost every series he's in.
5. Finish this equation - Sergei Fedorov:"a first ballot Hall of Famer" as Miroslav Satan:"____."
6. The unofficial slogan of the Pittsburgh Penguins is:
A. "Ya' Hungry?"
B. "It's a Great Day for Hockey"
C. "Check us out on Versus or NBC every single week"
D. "Really, we've had players not named Lemieux, Crosby, or Malkin on our team since 1967."
7. (True or False) Bruce Boudreau and Dan Bylsma won't even have to coach at all this series. With the extraordinary amount of talent on the ice each shift, they can sit back and be fans for the entire series. What minute adjustment that they could make would have any sort of effect on the series whatsoever?
8. The correct Getty Images caption on this photo is:
A. Alexander Semin of the Washington Capitals, waits impatiently for his bongos to arrive for the NHL's latest commercial touting thePORTAL.
B. Alexander Semin #28 of the Washington Capitals lands on the ice in his game against the New York Rangers during Game Two of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinal Round of the 2009 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Verizon Center on April 18, 2009 in Washington, DC.
C. Feeling like this is his best chance to score, Alexander Semin of the Washington Capitals plays dead in order to trick the New York Rangers defense.
9. Match the player with the corresponding fun fact:
1. Evgeni Malkin
A. Hates taking those silly quizzes on Facebook.
2. Jeff Schultz
B. Has a post-hockey career of hiding inside of small cakes.
3. Alex Semin
5. Sidney Crosby
E. Is Alyonka Larionov's "MVP"
6. Alex Ovechkin
F. Favorite movie is "A Christmas Story", but only the part when Scut Farkas is involved.
10. The Capitals have an advantage over the Penguins on special teams because:
A. The Penguins really enjoy passing the puck among themselves while with the extra man.
B. They really, really like to shoot the puck (216 shots through seven games) and Pittsburgh likes giving up shots (194).
C. Despite going up against the best penalty-kill in the NHL during the first-round, Washington still scored 18.2 percent of the time against the New York Rangers on the power play.
D. There seems to be a league-wide conspiracy that allows Alex Ovechkin to go unmarked on the backdoor every single time.
11. The Washington Capitals have the advantage in coaching because:
A. Experience behind the bench is important and while he may have one more series under his belt than Dan Bylsma, Bruce Boudreau has pushed the right buttons to get the most out of his players.
B. When Dan Bylsma isn't looking, noted WWE-fan Bruce Boudreau will be creeping up behind him with a steel chair.
C. Dan Bylsma move to bench Kris Letang and Petr Sykora almost backfired on the Pittsburgh Penguins. His adjustments on a game-by-game basis against Washington will be even more important.
(The answer key is here, in case you actually needed one.)
Final Essay: Why the Pittsburgh Penguins Will Win the Series in Seven Games.
It's hard to have a strong pick either way because these two teams are very evenly matched and it's a thin line trying to determine who will advance. Thinner than the strands of hair clinging to Bruce Boudreau's head.
Washington took the season series 3-1, but the last time they met, back on March 8th, was the second game between the two after Dan Bylsma's arrival and first after the trade deadline. The Penguins from October-March 4 were a very, very mediocre team compared to the one that's been one of the hottest teams in hockey since the trade deadline. Chris Kunitz, Bill Guerin, and most importantly, Dan Bylsma, have changed the way Pittsburgh does business out on the ice and have attempted to rekindle the toughness that walked away from Pittsburgh last summer.
They key, as it always is in every playoff series, will be goaltending. Marc-Andre Fleury has the experience of a deep playoff run and has the knack for game-changing saves in a series (ask Jeff Carter). If Fleury can remain consistent, steal a game like he did in Game 4 against Philadelphia, then the Penguins should be able to eek out a win. Simeon Varlamov has never been here before, but that isn't necessarily a bad thing and hasn't heard young goaltenders in the past from doing damage in the playoffs. While his relief efforts for Washington were valiant, the offense is saw against New York pales in comparison to what Pittsburgh can bring.
Seven games is about right for this series. They are too evenly matched and there's enough hate in the rivalry that neither team is about to roll over and let the other one skate on by. Things seem to be on a slow up-tick for the NHL and a drawn-out, seven game series between its two top stars is something that will go a long way in marketing the game. Pending the league doesn't screw it up.
So Pittsburgh will win in seven games. Please discuss in 500 words or less, citing specific examples to back up your claims, and leave your completed quiz on Mr. Wyshynski's desk ...