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First-round breakdown: Capitals vs. Flyers

This one should be a dandy. Two teams not many folks expected to be any closer to the playoffs than their remote controls when the season began are both surging at the right time and riding goaltenders with a lot to prove. Throw in the best player on the planet to boot, and hang onto your hats.

The Washington Capitals (our pick as a playoff dark horse at the start of the season) will hit the postseason with as much emotion and chutzpah of any team in the field. Led by soon-to-be Hart Trophy winner Alexander Ovechkin, Washington has won 11 of 12 down the stretch to reach the postseason for the first time since 2003.

But Ovechkin is only part of the story as trade deadline acquisitions Cristobal Huet and Sergei Fedorov both contributed mightily to the run. Mike Green's breakout season on defense (his 18 goals are second among all defensemen) didn't hurt, either.

The Flyers finished last season with a franchise-worst 56 points, but GM Paul Holmgren retooled by adding Kimmo Timonen, Daniel Briere and Scott Hartnell. Mike Richards and Jeff Carter have both taken huge steps forward in terms of maturity and production. And after losing 10 straight in February, the Flyers righted themselves with a 7-1-1 record down the stretch.

Both teams have good speed, love to play the rough stuff and have nothing to lose. Did we mention this one should be a dandy?

1. Alexander Ovechkin. Ya think? Here's what's so great about having him in the playoffs -- there doesn't appear to be a player anywhere who enjoys what he's doing as much as Ovechkin. And there is no question the fans and his teammates feed off that enthusiasm. Like Sidney Crosby, Ovechkin is driven and wants nothing more than to win; No. 8 is just a little more visceral about it. And then there is the fact he can literally score from anywhere -- off the back foot, turning around, puck rolling, off the rush, one-timer. That's how you get to 65 goals, including 11 game-winners. And, as for any notion Ovechkin might somehow get the yips now that he's in the playoffs for the first time, he doesn't seem the type.

2. Who is Mike Green and where did he come from? That's sort of a rhetorical question since we know the 22-year-old from Calgary played all last season in Washington, where he collected two goals and 10 assists in 70 games. Yawn. This season, Green looks like a young Paul Coffey, whipping up and down the ice as though the puck is tied to a string. His 18 goals were second among all defensemen and his 56 points were good enough for seventh among defenders. Down the stretch, Green recorded points in nine of the Caps' last 12 games. Sounds like a player who understands the meaning of the term "clutch," not "clutch and grab." He may not make Caps fans forget Rod Langway when it comes to own-zone work, but if he can wheel through the offensive zone like he's been doing all season, the Flyers are going to have trouble.

3. The starring role. Richards, Carter and R.J. Umberger were around for the Flyers' last playoff appearance, a six-game, first-round series loss to Buffalo that ended with an embarrassing home loss in April 2006. In the two seasons since, the torch has been passed to these young players. Richards led the Flyers in scoring and is one of the best two-way players in the game. Carter saw his game elevated when injuries opened up more playing time late in the season. Umberger has been an important part of the top two lines. Can they carry that responsibility in the playoffs? Advancing pretty much depends on it.

4. The Broad Street factor. Toughness has been a calling card of Flyers teams for more than 30 years. This season, toughness has sometimes crossed the line to brutality, and the NHL put the team on double-secret probation earlier in the season as a result. But the Flyers will need to play up to that line if they hope to derail the Capitals. Philadelphia received good news when veteran defenseman and longtime agitator Derian Hatcher was cleared to play after it was thought his season was done (broken bone above the ankle). Hatcher's not very mobile, but he and Braydon Coburn logged a lot of minutes and acted as the team's top shut-down pair before Hatcher's injury. Keeping the talented Capitals from working the puck deep in the Flyers zone will be key and having Hatcher back, even if he's not full strength, will make that job easier.

5. Home-ice advantage? What's that? Who would ever imagine that visiting teams might actually fear going into the cavernous Verizon Center? Last season, the Caps couldn't even sell out a game when Crosby came to town -- and that was with thousands of Penguins fans in attendance. But the Verizon Center is a very different place these days. Everyone's wearing red, it's hot, sweaty and deafening -- and that's just in the press box. Does it work? The Caps have outscored opponents 24-7 over six straight home wins.

Martin Biron vs. Cristobal Huet: Biron has never played an NHL playoff game, while his counterpart in net, Huet, has played in just six. Hmm. Both have a lot to prove. Biron wants to justify the big contract he signed with the Flyers and Huet looks to enhance his already significant market value as one of the few top goaltenders scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent this summer. Both have proven doubters wrong down the stretch and will look to do so again in the playoffs.

Capitals: Rookie of the year candidate Nicklas Backstrom has assists in three straight games and eight helpers in the last seven. The Caps haven't won a playoff round since 1998, when they went to the Stanley Cup finals for the first and only time.

Flyers: Biron has just one regulation loss in his last seven starts. Hartnell, red-hot earlier this season, has just two goals in 13 games.

The Flyers have a lot more going for them than a lot of people think. Still, the juggernaut that is the Washington Capitals (did we mention we picked the Caps as our "Team Can Dream?") will roll on. Capitals in six.

Scott Burnside is the NHL writer for ESPN.com.