Alexander Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby (Getty Images)
The playoff series between the Penguins and Capitals did not come down to 87 vs. 8. And we should all keep that in mind the next time they hook up.
Can we put the Sid vs. Ovie debate to bed until their careers are completed? Please.
The truth is, at this stage of their careers, there is no correct answer to the debate.
If the matchup between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals in the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs proved nothing else, it is that it doesn’t matter how Sidney Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin do against one another in head-to-head competition, it only matters whose team wins.
In today’s game, outside of the goaltender, the chances of one player singlehandedly stealing a series is far more remote than it was in the past. While there is still room for some spectacular individual play, for the most part superstars are asked to conform to the team game, and Crosby and Ovechkin are no exceptions.
Ovechkin outplayed Crosby in the Eastern Conference semifinal, but it is Crosby’s Penguins still standing while Ovechkin’s Capitals are left scratching their heads wondering what went wrong.
Having both broken into the NHL in 2005, the two superstars will forever be linked. They have been part of a "who’s better, who’s best" debate since Day 1.
My pick is Crosby because he has been to the Stanley Cup final twice, winning in 2009, has won two Olympic gold medals and a World Junior Championship gold. Crosby has led the NHL in scoring twice and is a two-time winner of the Hart Trophy as MVP. There’s a good chance he’ll win his third Hart this season.
Though he has been less dynamic the past few seasons – likely the result of injuries – Crosby proved in the second half this season he can still be one of the most prolific scorer’s in the game by rising to third in the battle for the Art Ross Trophy, won handily by Patrick Kane of the Chicago Blackhawks. Ovechkin, on the other hand, finished a distant 21st, but was the only player to score 50 goals earning his sixth Rocket Richard Trophy.
No question about it, Ovechkin is the more dynamic of the two. While Crosby diligently works all 200 feet of the ice, Ovechkin places a high priority on hitting and scoring.
In their most recent battle, Ovechkin out-scored Crosby two goals to none, seven points to two and had 33 shots on goal compared to 14 for Sid.
To what avail?
The Penguins won the series in six games and to Ovechkin’s dismay, he (and his team) once again failed to make it out of the second round. Teammate Justin Williams, who has three Stanley Cup rings, said Ovechkin did and said all the right things.
“This is not on him,” Williams declared.
Williams is right.
Ovechkin is one of the most physically punishing players in the game. Built like an NFL linebacker at 6-foot-3 and 239 pounds, Ovechkin often leaves opponents battered and bruised after tattooing them to the boards. And he puts up big numbers in the process. I don’t believe anybody could ever attempt to make the case that Ovechkin is not committed to winning.
All of which makes this season’s crushing defeat so incomprehensible.
The Capitals had a dream season, winning the Presidents' Trophy with 56 wins and 120 points; six victories and 11 points more than the second place Dallas Stars who were also eliminated in Round 2. Washington was the second-highest scoring team in the NHL and yielded the second fewest goals against. The Capitals goal differential of plus-59 was easily the best in the NHL, 17 better than the second place Penguins.
Washington has one of the most respected coaches in the game in Barry Trotz and with Montreal Canadiens goaltender Carey Price injured for much of the season, the Caps had the best stopper left standing in Braden Holtby.
Washington added valuable playoff experience in Williams and Mike Richards, hoping they would be able to point the rest of the team in the right direction. Upon further review, perhaps adding Richards was a mistake given how far his game has fallen. He had no points and just nine shots on goal in 12 post-season games.
Nevertheless, the Capitals seemed primed to win their first Stanley Cup in franchise history, or at the very worst, at least make it to the final.
They just couldn’t match Pittsburgh’s superior team game.
What was painted as yet another chapter in the Crosby vs. Ovechkin saga before the series began, failed to materialize. It was an entertaining and hard-fought series, to be sure.
One thing is clear, though, in the end it did not come down to 87 vs. 8. And we should all keep that in mind the next time they hook up.