Pittsburgh Penguins center Sidney Crosby (87) exchanges words with Washington Capitals left wing Alex Ovechkin (8) during the first period of an NHL hockey game, Sunday, Feb., 22, 2009, in Washington. THE ASSOCIATED PRESS/Pablo Martinez Monsivais
WASHINGTON - After a little push-and-shove, Sidney Crosby was still running his mouth, even as his helmet came off and a linesman tried to push him back toward the bench.
Alex Ovechkin responded with a dismissive, "bye-bye" wave of the left hand, practically taunting the Pittsburgh Penguins star.
It's official: The two biggest names in the NHL don't care for each other. Ovechkin is tired of Crosby's constant jawing, and Crosby has no love for Ovechkin's theatrics. The emotions were there for all to see Sunday as Ovechkin scored his league-leading 43rd goal and the Washington Capitals thumped the Penguins 5-2.
"What I can say about him?" Ovechkin said. "He is a good player, but he talks too much."
And what does Crosby make of Ovechkin's showmanship?
"Like it or lump it, that's what he does," Crosby said. "Some people like it, some people don't. Personally, I don't like it."
This ought to be interesting - because the NHL hopes Ovechkin and Crosby will be marquee names for years to come. The bitter Penguins-Capitals rivalry has already gone through a couple of mini-feuds this season: Ovechkin-Evgeni Malkin and Crosby-Alexander Semin. Now it's the league's last two MVPs mixing it up along the boards and by word of mouth.
Sunday's notable incident happened in the final minute of the second period after the Capitals had taken a three-goal lead. Ovechkin gave Crosby a nudge with the shoulder, and Crosby retaliated by pushing Ovechkin's upper body over the boards at the Capitals' bench. Ovechkin then took his arm and gave Crosby a squeeze around the neck, and Crosby lost his helmet as linesman Greg Devorski stepped in.
Crosby, clearly agitated, was restrained by Devorski, and Ovechkin responded with his little wave as he hopped the boards onto the bench.
"I was just skating to the bench and he pushed me from behind," Crosby said. "So I just gave him a shot back. That's hockey, and he likes to run around these days, so that was it."
There's more. Ovechkin isn't happy that Crosby accused the Capitals star of a "cheap shot" hit in Washington's win at Pittsburgh last month.
"I play hard. If he wants to do something like hit me again, try to hit me again - and I'll talk to you guys (about) who plays dirty," Ovechkin said. "That's my game. It's not cheap shots, it's a game moment. But he doesn't like it, it's his problem."
Crosby and the Penguins actually have a bigger problem. After dominating the Capitals early in the Ovechkin-Crosby era, Washington is now firmly putting Pittsburgh in the rearview mirror.
The Capitals are 3-0 against the Penguins this season and 4-1-1 since Bruce Boudreau became coach 15 months ago. Before Boudreau, Washington was 1-7-1 in its previous nine games in the series, and Crosby had all the bragging rights.
Now the Capitals are thinking Stanley Cup, while the Penguins - last year's losing Cup finalist - would not make the playoffs if the post-season started now. They fell to 2-1-1 under interim coach Dan Bylsma, who was promoted after Michel Therrien was fired a week earlier.
Ovechkin, Alexander Semin, Sergei Fedorov, Shaone Morrisonn and Brooks Laich scored for the Capitals, who led 2-1 after the first period and 5-2 after Morrisonn and Laich beat Marc-Andre Fleury on back-to-back shots 25 seconds apart in the second. Fleury was pulled for Mathieu Garon after Laich's goal.
Maxime Talbot and Sergei Gonchar scored for the Penguins, who have lost six of seven on the road and lost in Washington for the first time since Ovechkin's rookie season in 2006.
Ovechkin's goal capped some fluid puck movement by his teammates on the power play. After Fedorov and Nicklas Backstrom worked a perfect give-and-go, Backstrom sneaked a pass between defenceman Rob Scuderi's legs to set up Ovechkin's one-timer from the left circle.
Crosby, meanwhile, had to settle for one assist - on Gonchar's goal - and some raw feelings afterward.
"I think he got frustrated because he wasn't getting the freedom he's had in this building before," Boudreau said of Crosby's fracas with Ovechkin. "It adds spice. It's entertainment. It gets your blood boiling a bit. And every time Alex gets a little more excitable, it can be good for us."
Notes: The Capitals have won 13 straight at home against Eastern Conference opponents and are 24-5-1 at home against all opposition. ... The win gives Washington its best record through 60 games (38-17-5) in franchise history.