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THN.com Playoff Blog: Pens in tough to take home-ice back from Caps

Washington took Game 1 from the Pens 3-2 and have a 1-0 series lead. (Photo by Len Redkoles/Getty Images)

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Washington took Game 1 from the Pens 3-2 and have a 1-0 series lead. (Photo by Len Redkoles/Getty Images)

On Sunday, in their second game of the second round of the NHL playoffs, the Anaheim Ducks and Carolina Hurricanes stole home-ice advantage away from the Detroit Red Wings and Boston Bruins. On Saturday, the Chicago Blackhawks were in Vancouver and did the same thing in their series with the Canucks.

But when the Pittsburgh Penguins hit the Verizon Center ice in Washington Monday night, they’re going to be hard-pressed to tie their second round showdown with the Capitals at a game apiece.

The Caps’ 3-2 victory over Pittsburgh Saturday afternoon might have suggested to some that Game 1 could’ve went either way.

Unfortunately, the reality isn’t so kind to the Pens.

To wit: Washington had 10 fewer shots (26 in total) Saturday than the Penguins, but only a few very timely saves by goalie Marc-Andre Fleury (whom I’m going to refer to as ‘The Marc of The Penguins’ until some Hollywood copyright lawyer tells me to cease and desist) kept the scoreboard from filling up in the home side’s favor. Don’t look for the Caps to register that few shots again.

As well, senior Caps forwards Sergei Fedorov and Chris Clark each were assessed a pair of (minor) penalties in Game 1 – with one on John Erskine thrown in for good measure. Pittsburgh’s goal-orexic power play unit was unable to score on all five opportunities. I seriously doubt the Caps will be that undisciplined for two consecutive games, just as I doubt the Penguins (who were one of the most penalized teams in the first round) can limit themselves to only two minors (called within 61 seconds of each other) the way they did Saturday.

Listen, your humble blogger of hockey isn’t suggesting the Penguins can’t or won’t win Monday night. If Pittsburgh got half as much of an effort from Evgeni Malkin as they did from captain Sidney Crosby on Saturday – and if Caps goalie Simeon Varlamov didn’t make that save-for-the-ages on Crosby – maybe the Pens would have squeezed out a victory and Washington would be the desperate team for Game 2.

As it stands, though, not only have the Capitals’ best players been better as a collective than Pittsburgh’s best, Washington’s least-best players (a.k.a. fourth-liners) also made far more of an impact than the Pens’ pluggers.

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When composure is your biggest concern, as it is for the Caps, that’s a welcome harbinger of what’s to come.

It also spells serious trouble for the Penguins – at least until the series shifts back to the more Pens-friendly confines of Mellon Arena.

YOU MAKE THE CALL
Switching to news of a non-playoff note, the New York Islanders have announced they are soliciting fan input as to whom they should draft with the first overall pick of the 2009 NHL Entry Draft.

You know what this means, don’t you? Brian Burke’s pursuit of the Isles’ pick is going to require many more phone calls than the Maple Leafs GM first imagined.

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THN.com's Playoff Blogs, featuring analysis and opinion on the action from the night before, with insight on what happened and what it all means going forward, will appear daily throughout the NHL playoffs. Read more entries HERE.

Adam Proteau, co-author of the book The Top 60 Since 1967, is writer and columnist for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Mondays, his Ask Adam feature appears Fridays and his column, Screen Shots, appears Thursdays.

For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, Subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.

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