ARLINGTON, Va. (AP) When the Washington Capitals host the Pittsburgh Penguins to finish their taut, thrilling Eastern Conference semifinal Wednesday night, Alex Ovechkin’s third career Game 7 in the NHL playoffs will mark Sidney Crosby’s debut in such a setting.
That’s right: For all of his talent and success, Sid the Kid is still relatively, well, a kid.
“I’ve watched a lot of Game 7s, but this will be my first one,” the 21-year-old Crosby said. “I’ve never played one in juniors – or any level.”
So he and 22-year-old teammate Kris Letang asked the, ahem, more-experienced Bill Guerin for some words of advice Tuesday while skipping the optional skate at the Penguins’ practice facility.
“Somebody,” Crosby observed, “is going home.”
Which sort of feels like a bit of a shame, given what these teams have delivered so far in a series that features the past two NHL MVPs (Ovechkin and Crosby), two of this year’s MVP finalists (Ovechkin and Pittsburgh’s Evgeni Malkin), and the past two league points leaders (Malkin and Ovechkin).
“Tomorrow,” Ovechkin said, wearing gray sweats and flip-flops after sitting out Washington’s optional practice, “is going to be pretty sick.”
– Five games were won by a single goal, and the other was decided by only two goals;
– Three games went to overtime, including Washington’s 5-4 victory at Pittsburgh in Game 6 on Monday night;
– Both teams led in each game, and five times the team that scored first lost. Both teams have held a series lead, with Washington up 2-0, then Pittsburgh up 3-2. And the teams have been tied or separated by one goal 92 percent of the time.
“It’s lived up to the hype of the ‘Super Series,”‘ Capitals forward Brooks Laich said, “and I think it’s great for hockey, in general.”
There are particular moments that stand out, from rookie goalie Simeon Varlamov’s out-of-nowhere save on Crosby in Game 1, to the hat tricks delivered by Ovechkin and Crosby in Game 2, to the OT victories for the Penguins in Games 3 and 5 when a puck went in the goal off a Capitals defenseman.
“The star power is there, and they haven’t underperformed,” Washington coach Bruce Boudreau said. “It’s not like you’re playing in the Super Bowl, and you’ve got the best running back in the league going seven carries for 12 yards. There’s no disappointment here.”
Ovechkin has 13 points (seven goals, six assists), better than two per game – and more than anyone in the NHL has produced in any playoff series since 2003.
Crosby, meanwhile, has 10 points, and Malkin eight.
It might have been instructive for Crosby to hear what the Capitals had to say Tuesday about what they remember of their recent Game 7 experiences.
In the first round this season, they won a Game 7, coming back from a 3-1 series deficit to eliminate the New York Rangers. But in the first round a year ago, Ovechkin’s first trip to the postseason, the Capitals lost a Game 7 at home in overtime to the Philadelphia Flyers.
Asked how he felt when that game ended, Ovechkin said: “Terrible, actually. But I don’t want to think about losing.”
Laich was more willing to share his memories in detail.
“It honestly felt like someone had just ripped my heart out,” he said. “It was the worst feeling. I don’t wish it upon anyone. Your season crashes, and it’s all over. That’s why you fight so hard to avoid it.”
Notes: Pittsburgh D Sergei Gonchar, out since a knee-on-knee collision with Ovechkin in the first period of Game 4, skated Tuesday. He will try to play Wednesday. … Games 5 and 6 earned FSN Pittsburgh the two highest TV ratings for any NHL game on any regional sports network. … Boudreau planned to follow Tuesday night’s Game 7 of the American Hockey League series between Washington’s affiliate, Hershey, and Pittsburgh’s affiliate, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, on the Internet, while also watching Game 6 of the NHL series between the Boston Bruins and Carolina Hurricanes on TV. Boudreau used to coach Hershey. The Pittsburgh-Washington winner meets the Boston-Carolina winner in the Eastern Conference finals. … Ovechkin said he’s having a hard time finding box seats to accomodate 20 or so of his friends and family Wednesday. “The box is a problem,” he said, “because lots of rich people here in Washington, they’re crazy about hockey.” …
Freelance reporter Chris Adamski in Canonsburg, Pa., contributed to this report.