Since coming into the NHL together in 2005 after the 2004 lockout, Sidney Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin have been the franchise players for their respective teams for the past decade, and the contrast in styles of these two stars could not have worked out any better for the league.
While Crosby brought an incredible hockey IQ and leadership qualities to a Pittsburgh Penguins team that was on the verge of moving away from the Steel City, Ovechkin brought power, physicality and pace to a Washington Capitals franchise that was in a similar malaise.
Both stars have had successful careers and have put up incredible individual statistics throughout, but only Crosby has seen playoff success, ironically at Ovechkin’s expense. Yes, he has had the help of Evgeni Malkin, who the Penguins drafted after Ovechkin in the 2004 draft before the lockout, but even with this added boost it still doesn’t excuse how Ovechkin has had to face the spotlight for his team’s consistent playoff exits during his time there when he has had less help around him from his team.
Now, they meet once again in round 2 of the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
This is the third straight time that these two Metropolitan rivals have faced each other in this round. The Penguins are the wall that the Capitals just can’t seem to climb over, no matter how hard they try.
In 2009, the Pens ambushed the Caps in game 7 of a hard-fought series to win in Washington 6-2 to start this off. In 2016 and 2017, the Capitals were the Regular Season Champions of the NHL, only to see their hard work diminished by Crosby’s Penguins in the 2nd round once again.
While the Pittsburgh Captain lifted the Stanley Cup over his head in both the seasons, the Captain of the Capitals faced criticism from all over. One dimensional. Doesn’t work hard enough defensively. Doesn’t make the team he has to work with better. Choker.
Despite all this, the Russian Machine has stuck to his guns and believed in himself, leading by example this season and having his best year since the late 2000’s. But it isn’t the goal scoring milestones he’s setting or stats that he’s padding, it’s the little things. Putting his body on the line to block shots late in the game, backchecking as hard as he forecheck, and truly being a captain by motivating his fellow teammates.
They recognize and appreciate this, as well as his Head Coach Barry Trotz, who said he earned ‘street cred’ with his team play. I’m impressed, and hoping he can finally break this label that’s been thrust upon him despite having an amazing career. Who knows, if he can get past Pittsburgh, maybe the Capitals will carry the momentum to the Stanley Cup.
The Capitals’ chances at accomplishing this goal are better than usual, as the Penguins are not at full strength with the series starting tonight. Malkin is out with an injury, as well as Carl Hagelin, who has been clutch for them during their playoff runs the past two seasons. They definitely have depth that can ease the burden in the likes of Jake Guentzel and Connor Sheary, but these injuries certainly even the score and make the series extra competitive.
After a slow start, Sidney Crosby started to score goals for fun again, even batting some out of mid-air. He only has two years on his rival, who is 32, and has battled concussions throughout his career. If Washington are physical from the drop of the puck, put the Penguins on their heels, and take care of business winning the first two games at home, it can put more pressure on Crosby to produce and galvanize his troops than he is comfortable with.
Then again, the general consensus is that the Penguins own the Capitals in this round, with the memes and opinions to back it up. Nothing gold can stay though, something is bound to change in this series because both teams have changed this season. You still have 87 vs. The Great 8, but now it’s about shattering reputations and changing narratives for each of these rivals. It doesn’t matter which NHL team you support, this series is what the league can use to draw more casual viewers in while still engaging die-hard fans.
Don’t take my word for it though. Just tune in yourself because you’ll see the passion and animosity from the off.
Update: Game 1 ended up being as wide open and exciting as expected. The Capitals jumped out to a quick lead through Evgeny Kuznetsov off a feed from Ovechkin. However, they struggled to solve Penguins Goalie Matt Murray and pad the lead, and in the 3rd period, the Penguins made them pay. Jake Guentzel lead the charge as they scored three unanswered goals in the 3rd period to take the game by a final of 4 to 3. It’s another dagger in the heart of Caps fans at the hands of the Pens, whose fans invaded the steps at the National Photo Gallery chanting, “You can’t beat us.”
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