It's rare that something highly anticipated exceeds expectations. Lebron James. The Dark Knight. Girls with tongue rings. And the first postseason meeting of Alexander Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby. Two games in and it's already a classic, with Simeon Varlamov providing what is thus far the iconic image of the playoffs with his dazzling stick save in game one and last night's one for the ages.
With the score 2-2 after Varlamov allowed his softest goal thus far in the NHL, Crosby perfectly executed a give and go with Chris Kunitz, losing Tom Poti on the way to the goal giving himself a wide open net. Poti got his stick on Crosby's slowing his shot somewhat, but Crosby was able to put it on dead center along the ice with Varlamov having barely a skate in the crease. Somehow Varlamov launched himself back to deflect the puck as Crosby was raising his arms, an obvious turning point in game one.
Game two led Sportscenter ahead of the second round of the NBA Playoffs and Yankees/Red Sox, proof positive this series is generating mainstream interest. In fact, watching those highlights I'm optimistic for the first time since the most recent lockout that there's a chance the NHL can return to the worldwide leader next contract. Ratings for Saturday's game one (and Kentucky Derby lead in) are up 40% from last year and the only negative for the league is that last night's game of can-you-top-this was on Versus and not NBC.
We all knew going into this series that the Ovechkin/Crosby matchup would generate interest, but the fact that they're delivering in the spotlight is what's going to get people to watch the next round. If you were a non-hockey fan in a bar last night and saw the only two hockey players you've heard of each notch a hat trick, you're going to be more interested in the next game than if it were a 2-1 grind-it-out game.
The only disappointment is that the respective Spocks for each team's Kirk have been invisible or worse. Mike Green has been getting worked by Crosby and has been a liability on the power play. Word is that he has or is getting over the flu, and it was obvious he's lost a lot of weight recently in last night's postgame. In my opinion he appears pale and gaunt, and I'd consider dramatically limiting his power play minutes. Malkin hasn't looked very strong with the puck this series although he played well against the Flyers (6 GP, 4 G, 5 A, even against Philly; 2 GP, 2 A, -3 against the Caps). I'm tempted to blame his linemates Fedotenko and Sykora, but I also can't help but wonder if Ovechkin has gotten into his head at all after repeatedly taking runs at him the last two seasons before the glasnost at the All Star Game.
The series heads to Pittsburgh now with Washington the only team in the NHL maintaining their home-ice advantage. Crosby's issues with the practice of hat tossing and Boudreau's complaints about Kunitz's late cheap shot add even more storylines in what is still expected to be a sufficiently long series, one eerily opposite to the Caps first round draw through two games in that the team down 0-2 believes that they're outplaying the other. Fehr and Letang were injured in game two, Letang's injury appearing to be more serious and definitely more detrimental to his team's chances. My heart tells me Washington wins this in six or seven, and I say this because I am geniunely rooting for the NHL as well as the fear that a 3-1 lead on the Penguins engenders in me. But my head says the Caps lose tomorrow, win the next two, and cruise into the conference finals needing only to fear overconfidence.
Miscellaneous: There have been a bunch of great work the last week about the Caps. Mike Wise had a great biographical piece about Donald Brashear, James Mirtle analyzed Ovechkin's release, and Dan Steinberg has had some consistently amusing stuff.
About the Author
Written by Ryan Cleaver
Ryan Cleaver was born in Björk’s house in Iceland and grew up on Easter Island, where his parents were giant stone heads. He has the ability to fire beams of tacos out of his hands and he can turn his legs into tigers. On Sundays, Ryan enjoys reading Family Circus and traveling through time. His favorite color is greenish-transparent and his favorite movie is the one you just watched.