NHL Week in Review (March 29-April 4)

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The NHL playoffs are right around the corner with less and less spots up for grabs as the days move on.

More teams are finding out that the hope that they had at the start of the season is gone and that they must prepare for a long off-season.

As teams clinch their spots in the playoffs battles get tougher and tougher between teams attempting to find their way to some late hockey.

Some of these battles between teams have become a lot more than just a one year deal though as many have seen each other too much for either of their liking.

These teams often form rivalries and some last for a long time with these playoff battles becoming the first in a long history of hate.

Many teams have already formed this hatred that makes this time and the playoffs itself a much more exciting time.

There are the classics like the Montreal-Boston rivalry or the Chicago-St. Louis rivalry that have plenty of history behind them and only get heightened at this time of year.

Those rivalries have been a part of the two teams’ history for such a long time that the start of the rivalry is really never known.

Younger rivalries have a different storyline though as they have been followed for the last decade or less and the fans alive today know the point where it all started.

hockey-sidebarThat is true for one of the best modern rivalries in the NHL between the Washington Capitals and the Pittsburgh Penguins.

This rivalry started out of one simple debate that raged on for years and still is debated today. Who is better Sidney Crosby or Alexander Ovechkin.

Both were considered “once in a generation” prospects when they were drafted in 2004, Ovechkin, and 2005, Crosby.

The spotlight was always on Crosby though as he was dubbed the “Next One” from the age of 13, essentially saying he was the greatest player since the “Great One,” Wayne Gretzky. He proved everyone right though his time in the minors and major junior and was taken first overall in the 2005 draft by the Penguins.

Ovechkin came to the NHL a year earlier than Crosby as one of the best players to come out of Russia, ever. He had the scoring ability and the moves but unlike many Russians before him also had the physical nature in his game.

He was taken first overall in the 2004 draft but played in Russia as the NHL cancelled the 2004-05 season.

So it was that Russia’s greatest and Canada’s greatest started the season in 2005 and were forever linked.

The debate about who was better started immediately and their games against one another began to draw a lot of interest from around the NHL.

So the rivalry between these two players to be the best eventually became their team’s rivalry as both players brought their teams from the bottom of the league to consistent playoff contenders.

Lately the debate has been softened though, although the rivalry remains a good one, with Crosby winning the Stanley Cup and gaining accolades for his attitude on and off the ice while Ovechkin has struggled in the playoffs and gained a reputation for being un-coachable.

This week though the debate fired up again just as the Capitals passed the Penguins in the Metropolitan division forcing the Pens into the wild card.

Along with that movement came the 300th career goal of Crosby and the 50th goal of Ovechkin this year giving him six straight 50-goal seasons.

Both players have put themselves in the list of the greats as Ovechkin became on the sixth player in NHL history to have six straight 50-goal seasons and Crosby reaching a major milestone at only 27 years old.

Now with both players back in the spotlight the focus shifts to the playoff race as both teams continue to fight it out.

It is looking to become just the latest chapter in the Crosby-Ovi rivalry and in turn the Caps-Pens rivalry.

As the Penguins try to hold onto a playoff spot the Caps are getting hot at the right time and moving up in the rankings quickly.

It will be a tight race to the finish while both teams may need to prepare for a modern rivalry series as the playoffs get that much closer.

(Extra Thoughts on this week in hockey)

Byfuglien lost for four
Dustin Byfuglien has been the heart and soul of the Jets since he moved to Winnipeg so when it was announced that he would be out for four games after cross-checking J.T. Miller in the head it was a significant blow as he will miss four significant games with the Jets still fighting for a spot

Official’s Suspension
It is not often that an NHL referee finds himself in some serious trouble with the league but Tim Peel is in that situation now after meeting with a hockey blogger, and staunch critic of Peel, in a bar that led the NHL to suspend him one game

Hockey Tough
With the playoffs approaching the toughness of players seems to come out more and more and that was true this week when Drew Miller caught a skate to his face, luckily with no career-threatening damage, and was sewn up and sent out to play the very next game


Key Scores:
Washington Capitals 5 – 2 New York Rangers
– The climb for the Caps began this week as they took on the best team in their own division and got a big win that sent them on a move up in the division that has them ending the week in the top three of the division

Tampa Bay Lightning 5 – 3 Montreal Canadiens
– The Canadiens have been one of the most consistent teams all year but the one thorn in their side has been the lightning who clinch a playoff spot with this win and ended a season sweep of the Canadiens

Anaheim Ducks 5 – 1 Edmonton Oilers
– It wasn’t much of a challenge for the Ducks as they easily got by the Oilers, who are seriously looking into Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel right now, but it was significant as the league leading Ducks clinched their division and will now turn their concentration to the President’s Trophy

Winnipeg Jets 5 – 4 Vancouver Canucks
– The Jets are in the fight for the playoffs and are fighting to earn one of the last spots in the Western Conference as they kept pace in the wild card hunt with a win over Vancouver

Next Week:
Ottawa Senators vs. Toronto Maple Leafs (Sunday April 5th; 7:30 pm ET)
– The Leafs may have been eliminated a few weeks ago but that won’t stop them from playing spoiler to their provincial rivals as the Sens try to fight for a wild card spot as their time begins to run out

Arizona Coyotes vs. Calgary Flames (Tuesday April 7th; 9:00 pm ET)
– The Coyotes are stuck in the battle for Connor McDavid or Jack Eichel but the Flames are in the battle in what could be a great turnaround season as they continue to try to clinch a playoff spot in what has been a wide open battle in the west

Winnipeg Jets vs. Colorado Avalanche (Thursday April 9th; 9:00 pm ET)
– The Avalanche are out of the running as they struggled to stay in the hunt but the Jets may have plenty to play for as they try to take care of business and hope that the Kings can fall short to give them a wild card spot

New York Rangers vs. Washington Capitals (Saturday April 11th; 12:30 pm ET)
– One the last day of the NHL season everything could be solved and the races will be over but for the Capitals and the Rangers it could be all about going into the playoffs on a hot streak with the Caps representing the hottest team in the league right now

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