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Is Sidney Crosby a cheater? The Sharks sure think so

Is Sidney Crosby a cheater? The Sharks sure think so

We all know Sidney Crosby is a great player, a first-ballot Hall of Famer and probably on his way to getting his name etched onto the Stanley Cup for a second time.

But is he a cheater?

At least a few San Jose Sharks think so after seeing Crosby beat former Capital Joel Ward on the overtime faceoff that led to Conor Sheary’s game-winning goal in the Pittsburgh Penguins’ 2-1 win over the San Jose Sharks, giving the Pens a 2-0 lead in the Stanley Cup Final.

“He cheats,” Sharks center Logan Couture said after Wednesday night’s game. “He gets away with that. He’s Sidney Crosby.”

How does Crosby cheat on faceoffs, Couture was asked.

“He times them,” Couture said. “And yet they don't kick him out for some reason; probably because of who he is.”

Ah, yes, the old double standard. Michael Jordan was never called for traveling because he was Michal Jordan. Clayton Kershaw gets strikes off the plate because he’s a three-time Cy Young award winner.

Crosby’s faceoff proficiency – he’s won 52.6 of his draws since the NHL began keeping track in his third NHL season (2007-08) -- often gets overlooked. But several players around the NHL, including a few Capitals, have accused Crosby of being, well, a little too quick on the draw.

“Maybe (Crosby) should have been kicked out,” Sharks defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic said. “He took a while to get into the faceoff (but), but what do I know?”

The reason Crosby took so long to take the draw against Ward is that he was devising a play that went exactly as he scripted it, cleanly winning the puck back to defenseman Kris Letang, who feathered a pass into the slot for Conor Sheary, who ripped a shot through a screen and past San Jose goalie Martin Jones.

But it all started with Crosby swiping a backhander away from Ward. Crosby’s stick is off the ice before the puck drop from linesman Pierre Racicot and the momentum he gains from coming across his body on the backhand is enough to cleanly win the draw.

According to Rule 76.4, Face-Offs – Paragraph 2, Crosby was technically cheating.

When the face-off takes place at any of the nine face-off spots, the players taking part shall take their position so that they will stand squarely facing their opponent's end of the rink, and clear of the ice markings (where applicable). The sticks of both players facing-off shall have the blade on the ice, within the designated white area. At the eight face-off spots (excluding center ice face-off spot), the defending player shall place his stick within the designated white area first followed immediately by the attacking player. When the face-off is conducted at the center ice face-off spot, the visiting player shall place his stick on the ice first.

Ward, the visiting player, clearly put his stick on the ice first, but Crosby timed Racicot’s drop perfectly.

But before we start throwing darts at Crosby, let’s not forget the amount of film study and practice that goes into his proficiency on faceoffs. He went into the playoffs knowing the tendencies and cadences of every NHL linesman.

Crosby won 17 of his 24 faceoffs Wednesday night and spent extra time during an optional practice working on his draws with former Caps center Eric Fehr.

"That's Sid," Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said. "His work ethic is unmatched. He has an insatiable appetite to get better and be the best. I've said it on a number of occasions: He's not as good as he is by accident. He works extremely hard at it. He prides himself in the details of his game, like faceoffs."

And let’s also give Crosby credit for, before the faceoff, telling Sheary to leave his spot on the left wall and find a “soft spot” in the high slot, where Letang could flip the puck past an aggressive pursuit by Couture.  

That’s some pretty good game-planning by the Penguins’ captain.

"He said he was going to win it to me, that's it," Letang said. “He was going to win it to me and I had to find (Sheary).”

He did, and Crosby and the Penguins are now two wins away from hockey’s holy grail.

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Alex Ovechkin's evolution as a player was on full display in Game 6

Alex Ovechkin's evolution as a player was on full display in Game 6

We all know that Alex Ovechkin is a world-class goal scorer. He is the best goal scorer of his generation and perhaps the best of all time.

He tallied another two goals Monday in the Capitals' 6-3 victory Game 6 over the Blue Jackets, but that’s not what really impressed head coach Barry Trotz.

While Ovechkin's career is full of highlight reel goals, it was the ugly plays that really caught Trotz's eye on Monday.

"[Ovechkin's] evolved in areas of his game," Trotz said after the game.

"He’s not just at that dot. He’ll go to the front of the net, he’s not scared to do that. It’s just adding layers to his game."

Ovechkin's first goal of the game was not pretty. It won't make any Top 10 lists, it won't be shown throughout the U.S. and Canada. It was an ugly rebound goal...and it was beautiful.

Just four minutes after Nick Foligno tied the game, Ovechkin put the Caps back ahead with a rebound goal. He parked himself in front of goalie Sergei Bobrovsky and was in perfect position when Bobrovsky made a kick out save to backhand the rebound into the empty net.

Those are the type of plays we did not always see from "The Great 8." But his performance on Monday did not stop there.

As Washington attempted to shut the door on the game and the series, Ovechkin did what veteran leaders do, laying out to block a Ryan Murray shot with less than three minutes to go.

"I’m probably as proud of him right at the end of the game blocking shots and doing that type of thing," Trotz said. "That’s full commitment. When that was necessary, that’s where you get your street cred with your teammates. You’ve got to block a shot when it’s necessary and get a puck out when it’s necessary. I’d probably give him more props on that than even scoring goals because that’s what you really expect of him."

Few expected a 32-year-old Ovechkin to rebound from a 33-goal season, but he did just that with 49 goals in 2017-18 to win his seventh Rocket Richard Trophy as the league-leader.

The reason why was on full display on Monday. His game has evolved, as cliche as it sounds.

Instead of relying just on the quick rushes, pretty one-timers and incredible dekes, Ovechkin has committed more to getting to the contested areas. He's altered his game. He is scoring the type of ugly, dirty goals the Capitals desperately need in the playoffs.

That commitment on offense seemed to translate to the defense as well on Monday night. putting his body is a dangerous position laying out for blocked shots.

"Those are the necessary things, those necessary details that allow you to win," Trotz said. "If you don’t have them, then you’re not going to win."

MORE CAPITALS: Pens again: Capitals to face Penguins in NHL Playoffs for third consecutive year

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Capitals to face Penguins in NHL Playoffs for third consecutive year

Capitals to face Penguins in NHL Playoffs for third consecutive year

The Caps are headed to the 2018 NHL Playoffs Eastern Conference Semifinals to take on the Pittsburgh Penguins… again.

Stop us if you’ve heard this one before.

Yes, for the third time in three years, the Capitals will play the Penguins, hoping to take down the defending Stanley Cup champions and advance out of the second round of the playoffs and to the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time since the 1998 season, when the team made it all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals.

The Capitals are riding momentum from their first-round series win over the Columbus Blue Jackets, where they fought back from an 0-2 series hole to win the series thanks to a 6-3 victory in Game 6 Monday night in Columbus.

That momentum coupled with home-ice advantage — should they choose to capitalize on that this time around — could create an ideal atmosphere for the Caps to take a 2-0 series lead before heading to Pittsburgh for Games 3 and 4.

A perennial problem, Sidney Crosby enters this series playing some of his best playoff hockey. In their 4-2 series win over the Philadelphia Flyers, the Pens’ captain scored six goals in six games, including a hat trick in the opening matchup.

But he’s not the only one creating havoc for goalies. Center Jake Guentzel is tied with Crosby at the top of the league in goals and points in the playoffs. The pair each had six goals and seven assists against the Flyers, as well as 17 shots on goal apiece.

Is it possible they’ll get stonewalled by Braden Holtby, who — despite not starting initially in the first two games for the Caps against the Blue Jackets — is rocking a 93.6 save percentage and ranks fourth in the league with a 1.66 goals against average among goaltenders who have played more than one postseason game.

If the Caps can find a spark in their offense with Holtby staying strong in goal, perhaps this could be the year they finally slide past the Pens.

However, history isn’t exactly on Washington’s side. In the second-round series from the 2015-16 and 2016-17 seasons, the Pens hold an 8-5 record over the Caps, eliminating them both years on their way to back-to-back Stanley Cups.

Pittsburgh leads the Caps in the overall playoff game record, 38-24, and they’ve met for 10 series in the postseason, dating back to 1990-91. Four times the series was pushed to a Game 7, but the Caps never came out on top.

The one and only time the Caps have ever eliminated the Pens from the playoffs was in the 1993-94 season, when they beat Pittsburgh 4-2 in the first round before losing to the New York Rangers in the Eastern Conference Semifinals.

But hey, this year could become the second time in franchise history the Caps take down the Pens.

The NHL has yet to announce when Game 1 of the Capitals vs. Penguins series will take place, but with the Wizards playing Game 6 of their NBA Playoff series at home on Friday, the likliest start date is either Thursday, April 26 or Saturday, April 28.