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Posted: Thursday April 30, 2009 1:32PM; Updated: Thursday April 30, 2009 1:32PM

Roundtable: Crosby vs. Ovechkin, first-round fallout, more

Story Highlights

The Crosby vs. Malkin rivalry burns hot, but won't decide their series

The Canucks and Bruins have the most to fear from their long waits

Change is coming to first-round losers and Calgary may see the most

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Sidney Crosby has experience and something to prove, but watch Alex Ovechkin try to get under his skin.
AP

SI.com NHL writers analyze the aftermath of the first round and look ahead to the conference semi-finals.

1. The Sidney Crosby-Alex Ovechkin rivalry seemed to be largely a creation of the media during its early years, but there's genuine heat there now. What do you expect to see in their second-round showdown?

Jin Kelley: I have to think Crosby has been stunned by the fact he didn't make the final three in balloting for the Hart Trophy as league MVP, so I expect that he'll be primed to put on a show -- not to show up Ovechkin, but to show the hockey world that he is every bit as good as Ovechkin, Evgeni Malkin and Pavel Datsyuk because of his ability to use his talent to make the players around him better. I expect Ovechkin to be Ovechkin, the ringleader of the circus, the exact opposite of Crosby's carefully-cultivated Canadian homeboy "Have another Timbit, you cute kid" image.

At some point in the series, Ovechkin will run Crosby hard, not to hurt him but to try to get him to react and start looking for ways to pay back rather than win the game. I don't know if Crosby will take that bait. He has in the past and still has some growing up to do, but whatever comes of it will be must-watch TV on and off the ice.

Michael Farber: While the rivalry has become increasingly personal -- it ain't Gordie Howe vs. Rocket Richard but it seems to be trending in that direction -- both players are innately clever enough to grasp that they are the twin pillars upon which the 21st century NHL will be built. More than Howe-Rocket, I see theirs as a Magic Johnson-Larry Bird kind of deal. It will always be highly competitive and, at times, wildly emotional of course, but ultimately their rivalry is rooted in a shared appreciation of the other's skill and significance.

But this isn't mano-a-mano. The best part of the rivalry is there are so many ancillary offshoots: Alexander Semin badmouthing Crosby earlier this season, Evgeni Malkin's longstanding feud with Ovechkin, etc. There are enough subplots to make Washington-Pittsburgh a seven-chapter Russian novel.

Darren Eliot: Both are extremely focused young players. It is an attribute that makes them special. They share dynamism in the open ice and a determination in the trenches that is rare in scoring stars. Ovechkin is the more natural goal-scorer and has a penchant for doling out punishing hits. Crosby is more the playmaker. To gauge his toughness, look at his willingness to wade into the high traffic areas around the net to make a play. He is arguably the most gifted grinder of all time -- and I say that with the highest sense of flattery intended. Having said all that, can Crosby vs. Ovechkin live up to the hype? Probably not. But my feeling is that both will deliver their share of big plays and memorable moments. Both of them are too used to scrutiny to shrivel.

Allan Muir: I expect this to be one of those rare sporting duels that actually lives up to the hype. Both are team players first, but this will be their Bird-Magic moment, a chance to not only measure themselves against each other, but to really dig deep and find out exactly how much they have to offer at this point in their careers.

From an individual perspective, I think we'll see Crosby emerge with the higher marks. Ovechkin struggled while trying to do too much against the Rangers, and I can see his competitive fire burning a little too brightly. Crosby seems more focused, more grounded. And you can't rule out the experience factor. He's been here before. Ovechkin hasn't.

That said, I don't think this series comes down to their battle, or to Malkin or Semin. I think the difference-maker has to be Jordan Staal. He's the guy the Caps don't have a ready answer for. His line did a nice job establishing the forecheck and keeping Jeff Carter quiet, but there was no finish. Hard work is part of the equation, but just a part. Staal knows he needs to come up with results in this round. Watch it happen.

2. The Red Wings, Canucks and Bruins haven't played in a week or more. Which of the three do you think is most vulnerable to its second-round opponent because of the layoff?

Jim Kelley: I think the Bruins will have a bit more trouble than the other two. They're a team that plays with a great deal of emotion and must face a team that's coming to the series on an amazing high after an amazing Game 7 victory. Think about this:

The Hurricanes are sitting on their bench, the clock is ticking down and they are losing to a team that can protect a lead like few others, and with the winningest goaltender of all time tending the net. In little more than the blink of Marty Brodeur's eye, the 'Canes have the game tied and then won on two of the most amazing plays you'll see in a hockey season let alone two shifts. How do the Bruins match that?

Boston is the better team and I believe they will, over the course of the series, right themselves and win it. But they're going to have to move quickly to match Carolina's emotional level and work harder than they did against Montreal to solve Cam Ward who, if he plays like he did against New Jersey, could steal the series before the Bruins get untracked.

Michael Farber: The question of rest vs. rust is eternal. When it comes to measuring the springtime rhythms, it can go either way. But if you're the Canucks, you probably treasured the time off.

In 2007, they survived a seven-game goalie's duel between Roberto Luongo and Dallas's Marty Turco, then immediately zipped off to Anaheim where they were promptly flattened in a five-game series. This time, they had the luxury of healing some injuries, including whatever ailed Mats Sundin. He looked slick in a practice I attended in Vancouver last Friday. (Indeed, coach Alain Vigneault later told Sundin that it was the sharpest he had seen him.)

But the Blackhawks were not as badly mangled by Calgary in their six-game series as I suspected they would be. In fact, Chicago seemed to do the majority of the initiating against the once-fierce Flames. With a shorter (although not insignificant) rest than Vancouver, the Blackhawks could steal Game 1 unless Luongo is razor sharp.

Darren Eliot: Canucks. The Red Wings have enough experience to know where the intensity switch is located and how to turn it on. The Bruins could have a problem with early focus due to having so many young players at their core, but Carolina's stupefying comeback balances that out. One could forgive the 'Canes for taking a little longer to come down from that high before getting fully vested in the task at hand with the Bruins.

The Canucks, however, take on a team that used winning on the road as a mantra before doing just that to eliminate the Flames in six. The Blackhawks were a good road team all season and to them, at least conceptually, this is just the second game of a trip. That preparation should have them ready from the outset while the Canucks will need time to reestablish the level of superior play they exhibited down the stretch and in the first round. That particularly applies to Luongo, who had his impressive run of top-notch netminding interrupted.

Allan Muir: If I'm Boston coach Claude Julien, I'm worried about getting the legs going early against Carolina. The Hurricanes rely heavily on their speed and transition game, and their motor's warm after taking the last two games of their series against the Devils. The Bruins are plenty capable of countering that style, but they've been cooling their jets since wiping out the Habs on April 22. That's more than recuperation time. That's ice-on-the-wings time. Wouldn't surprise me to see the 'Canes wax them in Game 1, but I still think the Bruins take a long, highly entertaining series.

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