Ovechkin and Crosby: NHL's best of enemies

March 09, 2009|By RICK MAESE | RICK MAESE,rick.maese@baltsun.com

WASHINGTON - After 65 minutes, still no one's hand was raised. Forget it. There's an easier way to settle this.

No, not the game - though every time the Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals meet, the excitement and intensity results in some pretty good hockey.

With the regular season winding down, the final matchup between the two teams was overshadowed by the battle between two men - Alex the Great and Sid the Kid. The young superstars Alex Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby have been anointed to carry the NHL on their collective shoulders to new heights. It's not simply their respective skill sets that make puckheads drool, but also the bad feelings that have developed between the two. Crosby and Ovechkin make Bill O'Reilly and Keith Olbermann look like BFFs.

Yesterday at Verizon Center, the intrigue slowly built through three periods and one overtime. With the score tied at 3 and the game heading into a shootout, the maddening crescendo made ear drums shake. Short of locking the two in a phone booth, there would be no better way to decide the victor of Ovechkin vs. Crosby.

The 18,277-member red sea that wrapped around the ice was going nuts. The two teams last faced each other Feb. 22 - a 5-2 Capitals win. In that game, Crosby and Ovechkin exchanged words and then shoves. In the days that followed, aided by reporters, words flew back and forth between the two camps.

Crosby, the 2007 Most Valuable Player and scoring champ, contended Ovechkin plays dirty and is too rough.

Ovechkin, the 2008 MVP and scoring champ, says his rival litters the ice with his foul trash talk.

Since that meeting, the Penguins had reeled off five straight wins; the Capitals had lost four of six, including three straight at home heading into yesterday's game.

With the two stars' previous fracas garnering attention across the league, Capitals fans were anticipating fireworks between Crosby and Ovechkin. In what might have been the largest impromptu baby shower ever staged, thousands packed into the arena sucking on pacifiers. The object of their disdain was never in doubt. Forget any politician. Forget Dan Snyder, Jim Bowden or just about any player who has swung a bat or thrown a ball around here. Pittsburgh's No. 87 has become D.C. public enemy No. 1.

"I don't love it," Crosby revealed later. "But it doesn't change the way I play out there."

One Caps fan carried a baby doll dressed in a Crosby jersey. Not far away, slapped against the glass was a sign that read, "Sidney, No Diving." Some fans waved tissues and others wore T-shirts that read, "Sidney's Diving School."

Even before the shootout, Crosby had played a role in two Penguins goals, scoring their first and notching an assist on the third.

With the game on the line, he was the Penguins' second shooter. Gliding down the ice, he faked once before going high to goaltender Jose Theodore's glove side. The Penguins took a 4-3 lead, but Ovechkin, the Capitals' third shooter, still had a chance to tie it.

Ovechkin had missed the Capitals' previous game because of a heel injury, but sharing the ice with Crosby a final time this season, he wasn't about to sit this one out. He appeared slightly slower than usual but still played at a high level yesterday. In fact, when his team faced a 3-1 deficit after two periods, Ovechkin whipped a shot above Marc-Andre Fleury's glove just 29 seconds into the third. The Capitals tied the score less than a minute later.

Ovechkin approached the net slowly before pulling back his stick and aiming for the five-hole. The puck sputtered between Fleury's legs but couldn't quite get in.

Caps fans might've won in the stands; Crosby won on the ice.

"Great ones seem to have the game on the line when it's their turn," Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau said. "Alex started it out in the third, but tonight it was Sidney's time to have the game on the line. He's a great one."

With a month left in the regular season, the Capitals continue to slide. Washington lost again yesterday, but hockey fans everywhere won. The sport has found its Palmer-Nicklaus, its Wilt-Russell, its Ali-Frazier.

Crosby is only 21 years old. Ovechkin is 23. There are a lot more matchups to come.

Let's just hope they don't go and do something silly, like befriend one another.

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