3 reasons why Caps-Pens Game 7 will be highlight of playoffs

Geoff Burke / USA Today Sports

You asked for it and the hockey gods have provided.

The Washington Capitals and the Pittsburgh Penguins will go toe to toe Wednesday night in a Game 7 that's shaping up as one of the best contests on the NHL calendar in recent memory.

Here are three reasons why it'll also be 2017's best playoff game thus far.

Crosby vs. Ovechkin

Let's not beat around the bush: We all know why most people will tune in Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. ET.

Since Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin entered the league in 2005, the NHL has not been the same, and for good reason.

(Photo credit: Action Images)

As was the case in '05, the success of these two clubs is closely tied to the success of their two superstars.

This postseason has been much of the same for Crosby, who - despite a Matt Niskanen cross-check to the face - continues to produce at an elite level. Heading into Game 7, Sid's tied for fourth in league playoff scoring with teammates Phil Kessel and Jake Guentzel at 13 points.

His Russian rival, on the other hand, has struggled at times, especially in this series - he's found the back of the net only twice, leaving his 2017 playoff point total at a disappointing eight.

The Ovechkin haters will state the obvious: Crosby performs when it matters most, two rings, blah blah blah. While he may lack finger jewelry, though, No. 8 is actually a clutch performer.

Of course, this game and rivalry has grown into something bigger than just Ovechkin versus Crosby. But watching two of the best players on the planet - potentially, two of the best of all time - face off in an elimination postseason game with these implications is what most of us get out of bed for.

Cream of the crop

Wednesday marks the 20th playoff meeting between the clubs in the Crosby-Ovechkin era.

Over that span, the Eastern Conference juggernauts have traded blows atop the regular-season standings as well as in the playoffs, and this year is no different.

Washington and Pittsburgh finished the campaign in first and second place in the NHL with 118 and 111 points, respectively.

The 2016-17 season series was split at two games apiece, with the Caps outscoring the Pens 21-14.

With all due respect to the Western Conference, these are the two best teams in the league, both on paper and on the ice. Sprinkle in the secret ingredient - Game 7 - and it's the perfect recipe for a game for the ages.

Battle in the crease

Sure, Marc-Andre Fleury and Braden Holtby have both looked shaky at times in this series, but each netminder plays a crucial role in its outcome.

Fleury has two rings, Holtby is the reigning Vezina holder, and both have the winning pedigree required to carry a team all the way.

This postseason, their numbers stack up fairly evenly, with the edge in goals against going Holtby's way, and Fleury holding the advantage in save percentage.

Goalie '16-17 Playoff Wins Playoff SV% Playoff GAA
Holtby 7 .908 2.49
Fleury 7 .921 2.78

Before Wednesday night is out, one of the men in the blue paint will have left his mark on the contest.

Crosby-Ovechkin, Holtby-Fleury, or Barry Trotz-Mike Sullivan: take your pick of intriguing story lines. Or don't, and simply sit back and enjoy watching two of the best players, teams, and coaches compete with their seasons on the line.

3 reasons why Caps-Pens Game 7 will be highlight of playoffs
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