Believe hype for Game 7

ROB LONGLEY, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:12 AM ET

PITTSBURGH -- And now for the next and potentially greatest act in Sid the Kid's rise from hockey adolescence to established NHL veteran.

Though he has played with poise and grit well beyond his years in the Eastern Conference semifinal, Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby makes some personal history tonight in the U.S. capital.

"I've watched a lot of Game 7s, but this will be my first one," Crosby said before his team headed off to Washington where it will meet the Capitals tonight at the Verizon Center.

"I've never played one in juniors -- or any level."

Safe to say he couldn't have picked a more dramatic spot to have it happen.

Like everything else about this series, the timing is exquisite as tonight's sudden-death contest brings it to a just conclusion.

A series that has delivered so much already, now comes down to one game.

Best of all of all, Crosby and Capitals superstar Alex Ovechkin have lived up to their superhuman pre-series billing with individual efforts to be admired.

"The star power is there, and they haven't underperformed," Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau said. "It's not like you're playing in the Super Bowl and you have the best running back in the league going seven carries for 12 yards. There's no disappointment here."

The players know what to expect tonight. Ovechkin said it's going to be "sick" and "fun" and that it's "great when the fans want to see you."

"It's one of the biggest games of my career. But I hope my biggest game will be this year, just later."

Given that an off-day skate wasn't likely to accomplish much after all the mileage already covered in this series, both teams had optional skates at the club practice facilities yesterday in their respective cities.

The only notable development was the presence of Sergei Gonchar on the ice for the Pens, a quicker-than-expected recovery from the knee-on-knee hit he suffered in Game 4 after getting hit by Ovechkin. Gonchar will be a game-time decision tonight.

"It looked good today, it's promising," Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said.

Meanwhile, it's hard to fathom what can top a series that already has had:

- Three overtimes in the past four games.

- An exchange of hat tricks by Ovechkin and Crosby in Game 2.

- Rookie sensation Simeon Varlamov has been sensational in the Caps net facing 42 shots in three of the past four games and 36 or more in five of the past six contests.

- Six games settled by a combined seven goals.

- A star-studded lineup that prior to last night had the post-season's three leading point-getters: Ovechkin (20), Crosby (18), the Pens' Evgeni Malkin (17) plus the fifth and sixth in the race, the Caps' Nicklas Backstrom (15) and Alexander Semin (14.)

- Some inexplicable stats. The Penguins have outshot the Capitals in every game, for example. Ovechkin, meanwhile, has 13 points in this series alone, yet his team had to pull out a desperation overtime win in Game 6 to set the stage for tonight.

And what a stage it will be -- for the game at large and the two teams that have put on a spectacle not-soon-to-be-forgotten series.


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