Looking at the conference semifinals, 1st Ld-Writethru

(2) Washington Capitals (50-24-8, 1st, Southeast) vs. (4) Pittsburgh Penguins (45-28-9, 2nd, Atlantic)

2008-09 SERIES: Washington, 3-0-1

LEADERS: Washington – Alexander Semin (4 GP, 4G, 3A); Nicklas Backstrom (4 GP, 6A); Brooks Laich (4 GP, 2G, 4A); Alex Ovechkin (4 GP, 4G, 2A); Jose Theodore (4 GP, 3-0-1, 2.70 GAA). Pittsburgh – Sidney Crosby (4 GP, 1G, 6A); Evgeni Malkin (4 GP, 2G, 3A); Bill Guerin (1 GP, 1G, 2A); Sergei Gonchar (2 GP, 2G); Marc-Andre Fleury (4 GP, 1-3-0, 4.72 GAA)

Plots, plots and subplots.

Will Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin continue their feud? Will Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin continue their on-again, off-again Cold War? Will Simeon Varlamov be the second coming of Ken Dryden?

The Crosby-Ovechkin ‘feud’ – whether it’s hype or otherwise – makes for good copy.

"What I can say about him? He is a good player, but he talks too much." -- Ovechkin on Crosby

"Like it or lump it, that's what he does. Some people like it, some people don't. Personally, I don't like it." -- Crosby on Ovechkin's goal celebrations

Each will be trying to outdo the other, and that will be entertaining to watch. Ovechkin had three goals and four assists in Washington’s opening-round win against the New York Rangers. Crosby had four and four as Pittsburgh eliminated Philadelphia in six.

As for Malkin – selected second overall after Ovechkin in the 2004 draft – his issues with Ovechkin emerged during the season.

"Ovechkin is a great player, but every time he hits me - I don't know why," Malkin said after the first meeting. AO responded by saying it’s all part of the game.

Malkin, a finalist for the Hart Trophy with reigning winner Ovechkin, led the Penguins with five assists and nine points in the series win over the Flyers.

Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said none of these rivalries matter.

“The media attention for Ovechkin and Crosby and Evgeni Malkin is not going to be a new thing. They have dealt with it over and over and over again, and they know how to deal with it,” he said. “You know, maybe it's the rest of the room that can say enough of the talk away from the rink, let's play hockey.”

While former Hart and Vezina Trophy winner Jose Theodore started all four regular-season games against the Penguins, there is no doubt coach Bruce Boudreau will ride the hot hand and send out Varlamov, who has a 1.17 goals-against average in the postseason.

It’s often thought that a hot goaltender can carry a team all the way to the Stanley Cup. Varlamov is proving to be that so far. The 20-year-old Russian was the key to the Caps rallying from a 3-1 deficit to beat the New York Rangers in seven games.

“We'd only seen him play in six games, but we had a lot of faith in him,” Boudreau said. “The reason we did it is we didn't want - it was quite simply we thought we can always come back to Theodore. He's played very good if he's had a bad outing or not. If we waited till Game 3, if Theodore had had a bad outing in Game 2, it would have been too much pressure for him to start in New York down 2-0.

“We thought, we'll see him in Game 2, then we can make a decision after that. So even though we lost Game 2 1-0, (Varlamov) played really well. We had a lot of faith in him at that point.”

THE PICK: Washington in 7. The Capitals have the offensive firepower to go toe-to-toe with the likes of Crosby and Malkin. They advance with a triple-overtime win.

(2) Detroit Red Wings (51-21-10, 1st, Central) vs. (8) Anaheim Ducks (42-33-7, 2nd, Pacific)

2008-09 SERIES: Detroit, 3-0-1

LEADERS: Detroit – Pavel Dastyuk (4 GP, 3G, 4A); Henrik Zetterberg, (4 GP, 3G, 3A); Daniel Cleary (4 GP, 2G, 3A); Niklas Kronwall and Nicklas Lidstrom (4 GP, 4A); Chris Osgood (3 GP, 2-0-1, 2.97 GAA); Ty Conklin (1 GP, 1-0-0, 2.00 GAA). Anaheim – Ryan Getzlaf (4 GP, 2G, 7A); Teemu Selanne (3 GP, 3G, 3A); Scott Niedermayer and Chris Pronger (4 GP, 3A); Jean-Sebastien Giguere (4 GP, 1-2-0, 3.82 GAA); Jonas Hiller (1 GP, 0-1-0, 3.16 GAA)

The Red Wings probably knew they had all the pieces needed to make another run at the Stanley Cup. The Anaheim Ducks now know the same thing.

Despite being the eighth seed, Anaheim stunned Presidents’ Trophy-winning San Jose in six games. Ryan Getzlaf led the Ducks with six assists and eight points, and Calder Trophy finalist Bobby Ryan scored a team-high four goals.

The key, though, was another young netminder in Jonas Hiller. The 20-year-old Swiss native posted two shutouts, a 1.64 goals-against average, and has apparently made fans forget Cup-winning goalie Jean-Sebastien Giguere.

“I think we are enjoying that we are still playing at all,” Hiller said. “And Detroit is a hockey city, so it should be a lot of fun.”

For Getzlaf, facing the Wings on this level is simply another challenge.

“We knew we were going to have to go through probably both San Jose and them to get to where we want to be,” he said.

What the Ducks will be facing is perhaps the most balanced team in the playoffs. Henrik Zetterberg had a club-best three goals with five others recording two.

After struggling for a good part of the regular season, Chris Osgood was sharp again when it mattered. He allowed just seven goals in a four-game sweep of playoff newbie Columbus, and is 18-4 with four shutouts in his last 22 postseason starts.

"Should be fun," Red Wings coach Mike Babcock said.

THE PICK: Detroit in 7. The Red Wings will figure out a way to solve Hiller, but it won’t be easy.

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