Stars come out as Pens, Caps open series

Stars come out as Pens, Caps open series

Tonight, for the first time in seven years, the NHL’s two biggest stars collide in a playoff setting.

Sidney Crosby’s Penguins face off with Alexander Ovechkin and the Capitals at 8 p.m. ET in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinals. Oddsmakers at online sports book Bovada.lv give host Washington odds of -130 to grab the early edge in the series. Pittsburgh, meanwhile, enters the Verizon Center as a +110 underdog.

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With Ovechkin heading the attack, Washington raced to a 56-win regular season. Although Philadelphia pushed Barry Trotz’s group in a tougher-than-expected opening round, the Metropolitan Division champion still prevailed in six games. Ovechkin had three goals and two assists, receiving substantial support from Nicklas Backstrom (seven points).

Pittsburgh made quick work of the Rangers, thanks largely to Crosby’s stellar performance. The No. 1 overall selection in the 2005 entry draft notched eight points in five contests. Ever since Mike Sullivan replaced Mike Johnston as coach in mid-December, the Pens’ primary playmaker seems to have soared even higher. On the rare occasions when he leaves the ice, second-line sensations Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessell swoop in to carry the offensive baton.

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The Flyers’ physicality wore on Washington defensemen Brooks Orpik and Karl Alzner, who remain questionable for this evening’s battle. If they can’t go, Crosby and his fellow speed demons will gain the offensive zone with greater regularity. Either way, we anticipate a torrent of tallies to commence what should be a riveting matchup.

THURSDAY NHL FREE PICK: PENGUINS/CAPITALS OVER 5 GOALS

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