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The Flyers edged out the Rangers Sunday in a game between teams fighting for the final playoff position in the Eastern Conference, the back end of a home-and-home set that marked arguably the first and last instance of regular-season drama in the NHL. But after the marathon of often meaningless games, we're finally to the playoffs, where the handshake lines get long, the beards longer and the overtimes, if we're lucky, longest of all.

So is the NHL setting itself up for a marketing disaster?

The Olympics were great because we got the Canada-USA final everyone on this side of the Atlantic wanted. No matter how good a game it might have been, Finland-Czech Republic wouldn't have generated much buzz. So it is with the potential for a rematch between the Capitals and Penguins in the East.

On paper, Alex Ovechkin's top-seeded Caps and Sidney Crosby's fourth-seeded Penguins should meet in the second round ... except the NHL resets the pairings after each round of the playoffs, meaning even if the Penguins and Caps both win in the first round, they only meet in the second round if there are no other upsets. And at least for casual fans, Ovechkin vs. Crosby might be a bigger draw than even Lord Stanley's Cup. Pick winners.

Sam (State College)

Last year is over, and this pens team is not the same as last year. But am I the only one not freaking out? Obviously I would have loved my pens to beat nj/was, but the playoffs are a whole different story. I not saying the pens don't have concerns, but am I wrong for not jumping off a bridge like many others?

Pierre LeBrun
Pierre LeBrun

They have the knowledge of winning a championship and those Cup rings are very important. They bring calm and confidence to a dressing room come playoff time. But I still think Washington is the team to beat this year. Full transcript

Tim (Guam, Western Pacific Ocean)

Can the Caps actually adopt and play a defensive game come the playoffs? The scoring in buckets theory really isn't playoff hockey for most successful Cup teams.

Scott Burnside
Scott Burnside

Tim: Agreed that it's been a long time since a team played a run and gun style and won a Cup (okay, how about the Oilers anyone?), but I also think the Caps' defensive deficiencies have been a bit overstated. The first round will be a good barometer, I think, as they should cruise through whichever team they face, but it will give a good indication of whether they can tighten up when needed. I suspect they will. Full transcript

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If the Globetrotters can play a basketball game on ice, why can't settle which streaking team (not in the Will Ferrell way) is best? Put the Cavaliers and Capitals in the same arena and let's see which winning streak holds up.

With the Olympic break looming, the Capitals take the ice Wednesday night in Montreal with 14 wins in a row to their credit. That's three shy of tying the NHL all-time record, a mark they could match but not break before Alex Ovechkin trades Washington's red, white and blue for a Russian jersey. But Tuesday night in Cleveland, the Cavaliers held off the Nets for win No. 11.5 in a row. All right, fine, the NBA still insists on giving full credit for wins against the Nets, so it was actually win No. 12 in a row.

Both teams own the best records in their respective leagues behind superstars looking to win a first championship. The Cavaliers have three one-point wins in their streak but not many close games of late. The Capitals have a pair of wins against Sidney Crosby and the Penguins in their streak. So which team is hotter? Or is it a trick question after Kevin Durant extended his personal streak to 25 consecutive games with at least 25 points?

Frank (Cleveland)

Recent chatter says the Cavs stay pat at the deadline unless something blows them away... do they need to make that move to take the 'ship?

Chad Ford
Chad Ford

I don't believe it. I think that's classic posturing at the deadline. Washington and Indiana are asking for A LOT for Jamison and Troy Murphy. I think this is Cleveland's way of saying "If you keep asking for so much, we may not do anything." Problem is, no one believes it. Danny Ferry has been pretty aggressive the past few weeks. They really want to add a stretch four. I think the Cavs will cave and do something. Given Washington's reluctance to trade Jamison, I think Troy Murphy is the most likely candidate. Full transcript

James (Washington, DC)

Is this the year offense wins championships, and would it be unique to this season or a post-lockout shift to building more explosive offensive teams?

Scott Burnside
Scott Burnside

James; It's easy to look at the Caps and say, the heck with who's in net, it won't matter. And it might not in the first round but I still think they're going to have to find ways to win 3-2 games if they want to get to a conference final and beyond. Not saying they can't but I don't think they can count on coming back from 4-1 deficits on a regular basis beyond the first round. Just not going to happen. Full transcript

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The season's first meeting between Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin will be a true frozen treat for all of those on hand in Pittsburgh Thursday night. And aside from some highlights, basically only for those on hand. The two biggest stats in the sport won't be on national television -- even though on a night that also features Kobe vs. LeBron, 38 percent of SportsNation would watch hockey if they could.

Which brings to mind the question of just how much these guys can really do for hockey?

Are Crosby and Ovechkin the kind of talents who can bridge the gap between the NHL and casual fans in the United States, or are they really only a reward to savor for those who already love the sport?


I'm not slighting Ovie at all. Even though I love to hate him I always acknowledge he is an awesome offensive player - maybe the best in the NHL. And, he is surely on the short list for MVP. BUT, if you compare the two this season - believe it or not - Sid has been more valuable for his team, which is one of the criteria for MVP.

-- dd17404

Who does Ovechkin run (cheapshot) tonight? Now that the Olympics are coming up , and mother Russia needs all it's players healthy, I dont think it will be Malkin.

-- stickman15010

Jim (DC)

Who wins [Thursday] Caps or Pens and why?

Scott Burnside
Scott Burnside

Jim: Caps. Theodore on a rainbow right now. Caps and their fans better enjoy it while they can. 4-3 in a shootout. Full transcript

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The NHL regular season kicks off tonight, but we have to wait until Jan. 21 to get our first showdown between Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin (in either a brilliant marketing stroke that will build anticipation to untold levels or the worst bit of scheduling this side of the Emmys). By a 71-29 percent margin, SportsNation feels the league would be better served by Ovechkin evening the championship score than by Crosby winning his second title. Regardless, the individual duel will rage on.

SportsNation blogger NYandMU likes Ovechkin and the Capitals to win the Eastern Conference, but the highest individual honors go to someone else entirely.


The Penguins are gonna run the East for a long long time considering the best two players in the world (Crosby and Malkin) are 22 and 23 respectively. Not to mention Staal is the youngest at 21. In the four/five years they have been in the league they have won 2 Prince of Whales trophies, 2 Hart Trophies (even though Malkin has been nominated the last three years but somehow loses to Ovechkin), a Conn Smythe, Rookie of the year X2, X2 Art Ross trophies, and a little thing called the Stanley Cup.

-- SteelMafia43

the only thing alexander ovechkin is good for.....fantasy hockey

-- pitthaus

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Believe it or not, the start of the NHL regular season is just about a week away. No, seriously, we're not kidding. We know the leaves haven't turned and summer doesn't actually end until today, but what the heck, it's been, what, at least three or four weeks since the Penguins won the Stanley Cup, right?

Then again, maybe that short offseason helps keep the NHL fresh in SportsNation's mind. A year ago, voters correctly predicted the Red Wings to win the Western Conference and made the Penguins their second choice, behind the Red Wings, to win it all.

Blackhawks star Patrick Kane and writer Scott Burnside stopped by chat Monday to help SportsNation get its ice legs before jetting off to Europe (Burnside to Stockholm for the Red Wings and Blues and Kane to Helsinki for the Blackhawks and Panthers).

Jason (Ellicott City, MD)

You are only rated an 86 in NHL. What is up with that?

Patrick Kane

I think an 86 is pretty good to be honest with you. I think the highest are Crosby and 94 and Ovechkin at 92. I thought I'd be better than Teows, but I am still on the cover. I got him by that. Full transcript

AJ (Champaign, Ill.)

How do the Blackhawks avoid a lull in their performance after they return from Finland?

Scott Burnside

AJ; Good question. The European experiment has been decidedly mixed in terms of how it affects teams. All four coaches who went last year got fired although the Pens did end up winning a Cup. I think the 'Hawks' youth and the nice steady hand of head coach Joel Quenneville will keep them from going off the rails when they get back from Finland. Full transcript

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