You wonder if Eric Staal is getting a thank-you note from the NHL after setting up perhaps the most dynamic conference semifinal in league history. After all, while Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux dominated their era on the ice, because "The Great One" played out in the Campbell Conference and "Le Manifique" played in the Wales, the two never met on playoff ice, having to live through comparisons on parallel points and playoff successes.
Now, the NHL finds itself with a public relations gold mine with the two players that most hockey-avoiding outlets can wrap themselves around, a great storyline of two of the game's biggest names going head-to-head in a seven-game set.
Of course, while on the surface the story is the battle of the two superstars, the fact is these are two loaded teams that play a similar style and a pair of teams that can play a very entertaining brand of hockey.
On the Pittsburgh side, while Crosby certainly gets the bulk of the ink for his play, he's paired with a player that earned a Hart Trophy nomination over him, as Evgeni Malkin has really developed into a great player in his own right.
But he's a bit quieter than his Russian counterpart in demeanor, but certainly has surpassed him on the ice. Malkin was the real driving force behind the Pens' playoff push last year until he was hurt in the Eastern finals, and this year had more points than his teammate in both the regular season and the first round of the playoffs.
The Penguins also got a booster shot after a sub-par first half of the season when they acquired Bill Guerin from the Islanders and when Sergei Gonchar returned from an injury, as both those players are right after the two stars in the Pens' first round scoring. While Pittsburgh struggled when they underwent some major losses in the offseason with Ryan Malone and Marian Hossa departing, the acquisition of some good depth meant there was more room for their two top players and they were able to finish with a nice run into the postseason.
On the Washington side, of course, while Ovechkin is the straw that stirs the drink, there is a lot more there that can hurt an opponent. Alexander Semin actually scored more points against the Penguins than his Hart-nominated teammate, and Mike Green had a tremendous campaign as a puck-moving defenseman, not to mention last year's Calder Trophy runner-up, Nicklas Backstrom.
But despite all that, even ESPN, who has treated hockey like the Swine Flu since losing the rights to the league after the lockout, even led yesterday's SportsCenter with hockey - on an off day.
Heck, NBC even offered to one-up its coverage of the Kentucky Derby for one period of playoff overtime should the two need extra time on Saturday, something they didn't extend to the eventual deciding game of the Eastern Conference back in 2007 after Ottawa eliminated Buffalo... with the game having been shifted to Versus.
The league even pushed back the series until Saturday to first drop the puck on national television - which probably isn't a bad thing for the Caps since it allows them to get a couple of days off after a tough Game 7 against the Rangers, while the Pens have been idle since finishing the Flyers last Saturday.
But either way, get ready for over a week of breathless analysis of this series from the media that normally might just overlook the playoffs.