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After Practice (4-30-09): Pens-Caps

Some observations after the Penguins’ practice Thursday – their first in preparation for a second-round playoff series against the Washington Capitals:

• CALM BEFORE THE STORM: Some media colleagues in Washington covering Capitals practiced described the scene as “energized” and the Caps’ room as possessing “lots of excitement.” Perhaps that is to be expected; this is the biggest hockey event in D.C. since the 1998 Cup final – and perhaps bigger to Caps fans, given their documented distaste for the Penguins.

Still, I can inform that the Penguins room was no more energized than from last week, when the first-round Philadelphia Flyers were the opponent. If anything, it was business-as-usual at Mellon Arena today.

Dangerous is the attempt to cast generalizations about a series before it opens, but I do wonder if the experience factor might play as a huge advantage for the Penguins. This series is not their Cup final. It is not their opportunity to lift a franchise from previous postseason disappointments. It is not their chance to confirm a teammate as the league’s true best player.

This series, for the Penguins, is Round 2. I’m not sure it is just that for the Capitals. I’m not sure the Capitals will know, either, until it’s too late in the series to realistically do anything about it – ala the 2008 Stanley Cup final for the Penguins.

• NUMBERS THAT SHOULD INTEREST YOU: Two of top three regular-season scorers – Penguins Cs Evgeni Malkin (1) and Sidney Crosby (3), and Washington LW Alex Ovechkin (2) – are facing off in a playoff series for the first time since 2001 and only the sixth time dating to 1985.

2001: Jaromir Jagr’s (1) Penguins played Patrik Elias’ (3) Devils in the East final; Elias’ Devils faced Joe Sakic’s (2) Avalanche in the Cup final.

2000: Jagr’s (1) Penguins played Mark Recchi’s (3) Flyers in an East semifinal.

1990: Wayne Gretzky’s (1) Kings played Mark Messier’s (2) Oilers in the Smythe final.

1985: The Oilers of Gretzky (1) and Jari Kurri (2) played Dale Hawerchuk’s (3) Jets in the Smythe final.

• 44 GEMS: Few Penguins are more quotable than D Brooks Orpik, and he shared a couple of killer lines with Trib columnist Joe Starkey after practice:

On Pens-Caps as a rivalry: “I think there’s a lot more bad blood between us and Philly than there is us and Washington, that’s for sure.”

On Caps RW Alexander Semin’s early-season comments critical of Crosby: “What Semin did, I thought, was pretty stupid. I don’t know where that came from. If anything, it’s out of jealousy.”

On being in awe of Ovechkin as a goal-scorer: “To be honest, I think I was more in awe of Ovechkin trying to kill (Malkin) every time we played them last year.”

• CONGRATS, KIDS: Laura Poliziani, a fifth grader at Aiken Elementary School in Greentree, Ryan Zalla, an eighth grader at Fort Couch Middle School in Upper St. Clair, and Lloyd Carmack, a 10th grader from North Allegheny Intermediate High School, won a Penguins-sponsored contest for local students. The team had encouraged students to support the Penguins in the playoffs by entering an art and essay contest encompassing grades 1-12. Winners received a gift certificate to Dick’s Sporting Goods stores and two tickets to 2009-10 regular-season game – and some “Chipped Ice” love, which goes a long way during lunch-period pudding trades, presumably.

• BABY PENS UPDATE: The Penguins’ AHL affiliate in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton – you know, Dan Bylsma’s start-of-the-year club – is once again battling the Hershey Bears in the Calder Cup playoffs. Death, taxes and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton vs. Hershey, apparently; anyway, some quick hitters thanks to Baby Pens PR pal Brian Coe:

*This is the fourth consecutive postseason meeting between the clubs.

*Of the 18 games before Thursday night’s fray, eight had gone into overtime, with the Baby Pens up, 5-3, in those contests. (A moment of empathy for deadline-writing beat guys covering those series.)

*Of the four times the Penguins have been shut out in the playoffs, three have occurred against Hershey.

Oh, by the way: Hershey is the AHL affiliate of, yep, the Washington Capitals.

• YOU DON’T SAY: “Chipped Ice” encourages fans – and critics – to pass along thoughts and questions. This observation is from Corey Mentch of Greensburg, Pa.:

“It’s time to see Petr Sykora back in the lineup. Slump or not, he is a veteran who brings experience to the squad, and his shot is matched by only a few players in the league. Sergei Fedorov is cut from the same cloth, hasn’t been scoring much, and his laser in Game 7 propelled the Caps into the second round. (Miroslav) Satan can’t be dressed in Sykora’s place only to play the role of a fourth liner.”

So, dear reader, I ask you: Should Sykora or Satan get the call in Game 1?

Send your thoughts via e-mail.

Author: Rob Rossi

Rob Rossi has covered the Penguins for parts of every season that Sidney Crosby has played in Pittsburgh. So, since 2005. He has led the Trib's NHL coverage since 2007, when he became the primary Penguins beat reporter. He joined the Tribune-Review in November 2002. Rossi, 35, is local chapter president of the Professional Hockey Writers' Association. He also dabbles in radio, as ClearChannel's "Penguins Insider," and TV, as "NHL Insider" for Root Sports Pittsburgh, and as a semi-regular contributor to The Final Word, a Sunday sports show that airs on WPXI. In 2012, Rossi was recognized nationally by Penn State's John Curley Center for Sports Journalism for his coverage of youth sports for a Trib series that investigated concussion protocol. In 2013, he teamed with Carl Prine for an investigative piece about athletes' charities what was honored regionally. A graduate of West Virginia University and Keystone Oaks High School, Rossi was raised in Crafton and Green Tree and currently resides in Brookline. He is currently working on the authorized biography of Evgeni Malkin. Follow him on Twitter: @RobRossi_Trib

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