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Capitals-Penguins Rivalry Adds Subplots With Its Latest Chapter

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By Barry Svrluga
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 15, 2009

PITTSBURGH, Jan. 14 -- The ingredients lumped into Mellon Arena on Wednesday night: the past two NHL most valuable players, the league's leading scorer, a seemingly bitter dispute between Russian compatriots, and another Russian whose apparent disregard for one of the best players in the game was recently translated from his native language as, "I don't see anything special there."

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Thus, a regular season hockey game became something of a melodrama. Over the course of the Washington Capitals' 6-3 victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins, Alex Ovechkin, the reigning MVP who scored twice, was booed virtually every time he touched the puck, because he apparently has a rift with Penguins sharpshooter Evgeni Malkin, who has more points than any player in the league. The squabble between roommates at the 2006 Olympics may or may not include a scuffle at a Moscow nightclub two years ago during which, according to Russian Internet reports, Ovechkin hit Malkin's agent, an accusation on which Ovechkin has never elaborated.

Alexander Semin, too, was booed when the puck came his way -- and especially when his second-period goal tied the game -- because the Capitals winger had degraded Pittsburgh's sacred son, Sidney Crosby, who won the MVP two seasons ago and lost out to Ovechkin for rookie of the year four seasons ago.

Throw in the fact that Ovechkin does things like he did late in the second period, driving Crosby into the boards with a hard check, then having Pittsburgh's Matt Cooke get called for a retaliation penalty seconds later.

Twist all that together double helix-style, and it can't be sorted out, particularly when you throw in an incident just before the start of the third period in which Ovechkin appeared to jaw with either Crosby, Malkin or both near the Pittsburgh bench. Moments later, Ovechkin was leaping off the ice, celebrating his tiebreaking goal.

"They come at you hard," was the diplomatic way Pittsburgh defenseman Hal Gill put it. And from the Penguins' side, that would just about have to do by way of an explanation. Neither Crosby nor Malkin addressed reporters afterward. Other Penguins, frustrated with what has been a disappointing and injury-filled season, brushed off any knowledge of Ovechkin-as-agitator.

"I didn't see it," winger Petr Sykora said, when asked about Ovechkin's words with the Pittsburgh bench. "I have no idea."

To untwist things, start with Semin on Crosby. "He just said in Russian his opinion," Capitals veteran and fellow Russian Sergei Fedorov said. "It just wasn't translated right, I can guarantee you that."

Crosby, though, said before the game, "I wasn't happy with it." And no one in the crowd seemed happy with any of Washington's main characters. Ovechkin, several times, traded hits with Penguins, running across Malkin now and again. At one point, Malkin approached Ovechkin from behind.

"I didn't see him," Ovechkin said. "It was kind of a cheap play. Hit me in the face."

That, though, might be the subplot left for the next meeting, Feb. 22 in Washington.

Staff writer Tarik El-Bashir contributed to this report.


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