Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Ovie, Crosby renew NHL's most explosive rivalry tonight

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PITTSBURGH -- Dan Bylsma remembers the uneasy feeling.

It was Game 2 of the 2009 Eastern Conference semifinals between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals when Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin were going goal-for-goal.

"It felt like every time they got the puck, they were going to do something with it," the Penguins coach said. "It's nice to see when your guy has it, but when you see their guy doing the same thing, it ended up being (like) who's going to score last is going to win this game."

Crosby scored last as each of the NHL's top stars recorded a hat trick, but Ovechkin and the Capitals won the game. The Penguins won the series and went on to capture the Stanley Cup.

That was the height of the Crosby versus Ovechkin rivalry.

Concussion problems derailed Crosby, and Ovechkin needed to switch from left to right wing to regain his scoring touch, but tonight they meet in Washington atop their games simultaneously for the first time in years, engendering plenty of nostalgia about the good old days.

"Those two guys have been the face of the NHL and been promoted that way," Penguins winger Chris Kunitz said. "They're both playing (at an) extremely high level of hockey right now. Ovechkin always being able to shoot the puck and score goals and help his team and lead his team, it's the same for our team with Sid being able to collect the points and do everything that we need him to do."

Consider it a rivalry renewed as the Penguins and Capitals play for first place in the Metropolitan Division and Crosby and Ovechkin revive the debate about who is the league's best player. Ovechkin has 40 goals and 13 assists in his past 42 games dating to last season, when he won the Hart Trophy as NHL MVP, while Crosby has 19 goals and 42 assists over the same span.

"Those two guys are more Gretz versus Mario," Capitals coach Adam Oates told reporters at the team's practice facility Tuesday. "They're the superstars of the league."

Crosby and Ovechkin have some work to do before this battle resembles Wayne Gretzky versus Mario Lemieux, but when they're on the same sheet of ice it's a showcase for the sport. In 25 head-to-head games, Crosby has 14 goals and 29 assists, while Ovechkin has 17 goals and 15 assists.

That's not even counting the seven-game playoff series, when the captains combined for 27 points.

"Regardless of where we are, I think that everybody always watches these games. There's a lot of eyes on them," Crosby said.

"We know that it brings out the best in both teams, and, I think, both players. I think just with the history of the teams and all the matchups, I think that we get up for these ones and, as a player, it's just kind of a natural thing when you know the stage is a little bit bigger you get up for it."

In the NHL, there has been no bigger stage for Crosby versus Ovechkin than the 2009 playoffs. Pittsburgh's captain had 103 points that regular season, and his Washington counterpart put up 110 as part of his 56-goal campaign.

Crosby remembers the series being "just intense."

"It just felt like there wasn't really any lead that was safe," he said.

 

-- The Canadian Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 20, 2013 D3

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