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Posted: Wednesday January 14, 2009 11:49AM; Updated: Wednesday January 14, 2009 5:18PM
Michael Farber Michael Farber >
INSIDE THE NHL

Capitals at Penguins is must-see

Story Highlights

This is their first game since the Caps' Alex Semin disparaged Sidney Crosby

The Capitals-Penguins rivalry dates back to their days in the old Patrick Division

Ovechkin-Crosby rivalry is biggest between NHL greats since Howe and Richard

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The rivalry was spirited before Alex Semin (center) opened his mouth to say Sidney Crosby is overrated.
Dave Sandford/Getty Images

There are 1,230 games on the 2008-09 NHL regular season schedule. There are fewer than a dozen that really get the blood racing, that pique interest beyond the immediate marketplace.

The Red Wings' smashing 6-0 home victory over San Jose in December was one.

The Washington vs. Pittsburgh match at Mellon Arena tonight at 7:30 ET -- No. 642 on the docket -- is another.

This is the first Penguins - Capitals showdown since Alexander Semin's interview with yahoo.com, in which Washington's right winger (in Russian) was dismissive of Sidney Crosby. Semin told the interviewer that he preferred the style of Chicago's Patrick Kane to the Penguins captain and added that anybody could be turned into a star if he were promoted vigorously enough.

Indirectly, Semin was unnecessarily sticking up for linemate and reigning Hart Trophy winner, the incandescent Alexander Ovechkin. But there was something in the remarks that should trouble Capitals general manager George McPhee and coach Bruce Boudreau: if Semin really does prefer the slick Kane to Crosby, the Russian has a lot to learn about all the elements that go into making a winning hockey team.

But the current Capitals - Penguins rivalry, forged in the old Patrick Division days when these franchises seemed to face each other in the playoffs every year, runs deeper than some intemperate remarks. Ovechkin and countryman Evgeni Malkin, a Penguins mainstay and the NHL's leading scorer, have a frosty relationship. (There were reports that Ovechkin threw a punch at one of Malkin's representative in a Moscow bar a few summers ago.) And Ovechkin and Crosby have a well-chronicled rivalry, the most significant between NHL greats since Gordie Howe and Rocket Richard.

The difference: Crosby and Ovechkin have more of a Magic Johnson - Larry Bird thing going on, a rivalry tempered by their shared responsibility to carry the NHL forward.

Don't expect Icky at the Igloo tonight. Rarely do even the most highly anticipated bile-fests live up to advanced billing. (Washington center Sergei Fedorov told me that the Russians on the Capitals have had "back-channel communications" with the Russian players on the Penguins and "everything's cool.")

Given the Penguins' recent woes, it might not even be a great game.

But whenever you get Ovechkin and Crosby and Semin and Malkin on the same ice and toss in a dollop of controversy, you would be a fool to miss it.

Game preview

AP: Malkin's friendship with Ovechkin turns icy

Turth & Rumors: Inside the Ovechkin-Malkin rivalry

 
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