ALL THE PRESSURE IS ON CAPS, OVECHKIN

It would be terrific if the Penguins won another Stanley Cup.

But the franchise already has four, including two in the Sid and Geno era.

The Washington Capitals have zilch. The Pens eliminated the Caps just last year. Washington has never made it past the second round during the Ovechkin era.

In the upcoming second-round series between Pittsburgh and Washington, all the pressure is on the Capitals. In particular, on Alexander Ovechkin.

Ovechkin may someday top 800 career goals. But if he never wins a Cup, that failure will be the unofficial asterisk that mars Ovechkin’s individual stats.

Given the Caps’ roster situation, with significant free agency issues coming up – six regulars will be unrestricted – this season might be Ovechkin’s last best chance.

If the Penguins lose this series, no one will say they choked.

No one will question Sidney Crosby’s legacy, or Evgeni Malkin’s.

All the pressure is on the Capitals and Ovechkin.

How the Caps and Ovechkin handle that pressure will go a long way toward deciding this series.

MANAGING MINUTES = MARTIN’S JOB

Replacing Kris Letang is impossible. Just covering up for his absence is difficult. Doing so in a playoff situation is even more demanding.

But after one post-season game, things are copacetic with the Penguins defense.

Credit goes to those playing, of course.

But it also goes to assistant coach Jacques Martin.

Martin, an NHL head coach for 17 seasons, runs the Penguins defense. Minus his bell cow, Martin’s challenge is to balance his defense corps’ minutes. None of those dressed last night necessarily prospers when his workload gets maxed out.

Justin Schultz played 20:07. Ian Cole played 18:21. Every other defenseman played somewhere in-between. Penguins win, 3-1. Mission accomplished for Martin.

All six Penguins D played solid and simple. Break it up, break it out. More of the same Friday, please.

Kudos to Ron Hainsey for a quality NHL playoff debut at age 36 after 907 regular-season games: He was out there for 19:25 and went unnoticed. Mostly, that’s the idea.

COLE + CUTCH = SUCK

Last week, on my radio program, I mentioned that Gerrit Cole and Andrew McCutchen must live up to their perceived pedigrees if the Pirates are to earn a playoff spot.

So far, no good.

It’s only one game. But bad play can carry over from season to season (see McCutchen from the end of ’15 through most of ’16), and Cole and McCutchen were nothing short of rotten in today’s Buc opener at Boston’s Fenway Park.

Cole allowed just one hit and no runs in his first four innings. Then Cole allowed six hits and five runs in the fifth, featuring his oft-displayed histrionics as he lost his cool when things went bad and leading to Cole’s too-usual early exit.

Cole isn’t an ace. On a legit World Series contender, he’s a No. 3 starter.

McCutchen was o-for-4 with three strikeouts, and his swing resembled a rusty gate blowing open and shut in a stiff breeze. He left four runners on base.

So, McCutchen is in playoff form. Cole, too.

It’s just the opener, and nothing to get too depressed about. But if two players ever needed to revert to their hoped-for form in fast and furious fashion, it’s Cole and Cutch. Neither showed any remote sign of that today.

Quick question: Did Manager Clint Hurdle err in not starting Chris Stewart, Cole’s usual catcher, or was he right to use his No. 1 backstop, Francisco Cervelli?

Cole should be effective throwing to anyone, and I understand the notion of fielding your best lineup on Opening Day. But if the plan is for Stewart to catch Cole, then Stewart should have caught Cole today. Not that it would have mattered.

MAILMAN DELIVERS STUPIDITY

Retired basketball star Karl Malone says NBA teams shouldn’t rest key players for selected regular-season games by way of readying for the grind of the playoffs: “Get your ass playing. It’s not work – it’s called playing.”

An opinion drawn from extensive championship-winning experience.

Cleveland and Golden State may disappoint little Timmy in Memphis (or wherever) by scratching LeBron, Steph, etc., but that’s too bad. Life sucks, and then you die. The NBA and its broadcast partners might be upset, but there isn’t any way to legislate against.

Malone then took his contrived blue-collar work ethic stance to an idiotic level when he added, “Besides, tell our underpaid service members and police and first responders to rest. They can’t.”

That’s a mind-boggling false equivalency. Pandering to the flag-wavers.

Lots of jobs are tough. If yours is too demanding, or too dangerous, or doesn’t pay enough, quit. You know who would do your job? SOMEBODY ELSE.

As French general/statesmen Charles de Gaulle once said, “The graveyards are full of indispensable men.” He’s dead now.

You know who would be really tough to replace? LeBron or Steph.

Colin Kaepernick, not so much.

Filmmaker Spike Lee says “shenanigans” are afoot because Kaepernick can’t get a job in the NFL. Lee says it smells “mad fishy.”

Yo, Spike:  That’s just the stench of Kaepernick’s performance. He was 1-10 as a starter for San Francisco this past season.

I supported Kaepernick’s protest. But by kneeling when the national anthem was played before games, Kaepernick took on baggage that makes him a lot less employable given his level of play. No team wants a below-average backup QB that’s a political lightning rod. That has nothing to do with right and wrong, and everything to do with business.

As for Lee, nobody cares to hear celebrity millionaires moralize anymore. But he’s far from the only one who can’t figure that out.

PROCTOLOGY > BRACKETOLOGY

Joe Lunardi is ESPN’s top bracketologist (gag), the No. 1 expert in a field of endeavor created mostly by him.

Selection Sunday has come and gone. Here’s how Lunardi fared:

*He correctly identified 67 of the 68 entries in the NCAA men’s tournament. (Southern Cal made it, Syracuse didn’t.)

*He had 33 of 68 teams seeded exactly right.

*He had all four No. 1 seeds, and in the correct order.

*He had 15 of the top 16 seeds exactly right.

That’s terrific. But what’s the point?

Whether Lunardi nailed it or got things horribly wrong, he didn’t tell us anything we weren’t going to find out on Selection Sunday. When Lunardi plied his “bracketology” over the past few weeks, we weren’t watching news. We saw educated guesswork.

Or you switched the channel, like I did every time I saw Lunardi on TV.

Full credit to Lunardi. He created a cottage industry out of nothing, and has reaped mad benefit. But Lunardi doesn’t predict who’s going to win. He merely predicts who’s going to play. Ultimately, somebody else hands us the bracket.

No Pittsburgh-area men’s team will participate in the NCAAs. But the Robert Morris University women will represent for the second straight season and the third time in four years. Good luck, ladies. Just don’t play UConn.

 

 

 

 

 

 

ON YOUR FEET OR ON YOUR KNEES*

When QB Colin Kaepernick had a job, he took a stand. Rather, he took a knee.

Now that Kaepernick needs a job, it appears the oppression of minorities in America is somebody else’s problem. Or perhaps Kaepernick feels like that’s all cleared up. Maybe Kaepernick believes Trump has the situation well in hand.

Critics said Kaepernick knelt during the national anthem for attention, or to please his activist girlfriend. Critics questioned Kaepernick’s sincerity.

The minute Kaepernick was out of contract with San Francisco and shut down his protest to make himself more employable, his critics were proven right.

It won’t help. Not only is Kaepernick not good enough to be worth the distraction, he just isn’t good enough, period.

SIDEBAR: The U.S. Soccer Federation announced that it will require players to stand during the national anthem. U.S. women’s national team member Megan Rapinoe had previously knelt. What does “require” have to do with “land of the free”?

BTW, when Patrick Henry said, “Give me liberty or give me death,” was he serious? Sober? Can you be sure?**

* = excellent Blue Oyster Cult reference.

** = excellent National Lampoon reference.

STADIUM SERIES SCOREBOARD

PITTSBURGH PENGUINS

Stanley Cups: 4 (last 2016)

MVP awards: 7 (last 2013)

Scoring titles: 15 (last 2014)

Playoff MVPs: 4 (last 2016)

PHILADELPHIA FLYERS

Stanley Cups: 2 (last 1975)

MVP awards: 4 (last 1995)

Scoring titles: None

Playoff MVPs: 4 (last 1987)

If James Harrison was the Flyers’ father, he’d give back such a meager amount of trophies.

The Flyers have lost three out of four. They’re now five points out of a wild-card berth. Their goaltending stinks. So do their stars. Why not give these slop jalops another push down the steps to Palookaville?

“Flyers suck” is a chant I’ve heard before. But I’ve never heard it shouted by 60,000 people. Don’t disappoint me, Pittsburgh.

LOST IN THE SHUFFLE

Sidney Crosby got three points, the first being No. 1,000 on his career. Evgeni Malkin scored in the first minute, then spun Winnipeg defenseman Jacob Trouba like a top before feeding Crosby for the winning goal in overtime. Marc-Andre Fleury made 44 saves, including a few game-savers in OT.

It’s easy to get lost in the shuffle of an amazing 64:38 of hockey. Kris Letang certainly did.

But there was no denying Letang’s incredible contribution.

Letang had three assists, playing 31:07 and skating every other shift on defense (and then some) after Justin Schultz and Olli Maatta left the game injured. It was an amazing, dominant performance.

Letang wasn’t even among the game’s three stars. The night was admittedly very competitive in that regard.

Letang’s performance was doubtless fueled by the new Letang #58 candy bar, made locally by Sarris Candies and available in two varieties: Crisped Rice/Pretzel and Peanut Butter.

In an exclusive post-game interview (gag), Letang told me that he personally suggested the Crisped Rice/Pretzel combination – “Salt and sweet, right?” – and that he loves chocolate.

How can you love chocolate but still be in phenomenal shape and play hockey so well? God cheated me. But it really is a great candy bar.