Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Debate settled, for now


Player A: 7 games, 8 goals, 5 assists, 13 points, +5, 32 shots, 1 GWG. Game 7 performance: 2 goals, 1 assist, +1, 3 shots
Player B: 7 games, 8 goals, 6 assists, 14 points, +4, 41 shots, 1 GWG. Game 7 performance: 1 goal, 0 assists, -1, 3 shots

Player A's team: 4 wins
Player B's team: 3 wins

I assume you've guessed by now that Player A is Sidney Crosby and Player B is Alex Ovechkin. Very similar personal statistics, not so similar team statistics.

And when the series mattered most, it was Crosby delivering three points, including two goals, while Ovechkin scored his goal after goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury badly misplayed a puck right onto Ovechkin's stick for an easy empty-netter.

Speaking from the impartial, professional part of me, I can just add on to what a lot of other people have said: This was a very entertaining series. Just about everything the NHL could've wanted, save for a closer and much more competitive Game 7 Wednesday night.

Two superstars playing at their absolute best, two teams going back-and-forth for much of the series, and a series that went the distance. Whether it has the effect on the NHL that Larry Bird-Magic Johnson had for the NBA is unlikely, because, let's face it, the mainstream media/public just don't like the NHL.

Now, back to the fan side of me.

I spent the entire series, even much of Game 7, on the edge of my seat. No lead the Penguins got felt safe when going against the potent offense of Washington. Even Game 7, after Kris Letang scored to make it 4-0, I thought, "Holy crap, there's still 17 minutes left in the second period."

Only after a few minutes elapsed did I sort of begin to feel safe. When the second TV timeout came in the second period, I sort of started to breathe a little more calmly. Then Jordan Staal made it 5-0 and I started prancing around a little.

After Fleury gifted Ovechkin a second time in the series, I, well, swore. Fleury had earlier made a terrific glove save on an Ovechkin breakaway in the first period, a save Fleury hadn't been making in this series. If Ovechkin scores there, then obviously it won't be a 6-2 final. The game would've been totally different.

Shortly after the Ovechkin goal - maybe even the next shift, I can't remember - Fleury made a big save on Alexander Semin that could've made it 5-2 entering the third. That would've tightened things up a little.

Once the period ended and it was still 5-1, I was feeling fairly good. But I have seen the Penguins blow big leads, especially in the third period, and Washington's attack is not to be taken lightly.

However, the aforementioned Semin continued his disappearing act. After earlier in the season calling Crosby "deadwood" and saying he didn't see anything special in Crosby, Semin failed to score a goal in the series. He had six assists - he was originally credited with a goal in Game 6 but it was later changed to Brooks Laich.

Crosby's stats I listed above.

Mike Green, meanwhile, he of the 31 goals and 73 points during the regular season, registered only four assists and was a minus-5 in the series.

I kept waiting for both to start scoring, and I tried like crazy to never think, "We haven't heard much from Semin/Green so far," believing that those thoughts would lead to the players scoring (superstitious much?)

But I had nothing to fear, as it turned out.

Again, it was a fabulous series to watch. Any game, except for Game 7, could've gone either way. The Penguins dominated, by my count, at least four of the games but won only three of them. Simeon Varlamov held the fort as long as he could before finally fading over the last four games, with his team bailing him out in Game 6. And even then, despite giving up a number of goals over the last half of the series, Varlamov still made a number of clutch saves.

Unsung hero nominations from Pittsburgh are Rob Scuderi and Hal Gill, whose task it was to keep Ovechkin in check, and they did it as much as they could. As overpowering as Ovechkin was in the first two games - with 21 shots - he was held to five shots per game after that, a low number for Ovechkin.

It should be a fun series the next time these teams meet in the playoffs.

(One last note: Crosby scored twice in Game 6 to eliminate the Flyers in the first round. He scored twice in Game 7 Wednesday to eliminate the Capitals. Both games were on the road. Ovechkin played in two games where his team could eliminate another on home ice and got just one goal, which was a result of a boneheaded move by a goalie.)

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