PITTSBURGH -- Exactly seven years ago Wednesday, in a Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals at Verizon Center between the Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins, Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin brought their rivalry and the one between their two franchises to new heights.
It's known as "the dueling hat trick game," with Ovechkin pulling the trick first and Crosby matching him with three goals of his own in a 4-3 win for the Capitals
Fast forward to Wednesday, to Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Second Round between the Penguins and Capitals at Consol Energy Center (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports), and it's clear that one of the stars in this series has raised his game.
Ovechkin did that in the third period of Game 3, when he scored a goal, had an assist, fired five shots on net, 12 shots toward the net and laid out five hits.
Video: WSH@PIT, Gm3: Ovi snipes one from above the circle
Maybe it will be Crosby's turn in Game 4. It's time.
Crosby has zero points, six shots on goal and 17 shot attempts in three games against Washington. The Penguins lead the series 2-1 despite a lack of offense from their captain, but if Ovechkin is going to raise his game to the level he did in Game 3, it's fair to wonder if the Penguins will maintain their series lead if Crosby doesn't do the same in Game 4.
"I'd say the first two games we definitely had some good chances, had a lot of zone time and that's more of what we're looking for," Crosby said of himself and linemates Patric Hornqvist and Conor Sheary. "If we have a game like that, at least those two, we'll generate a lot more and hopefully bury a few chances. You always want more and if you look at the last game we weren't there, we didn't generate enough, we were on our heels a lot and we've gotta find a way to put some pucks to the net."
Crosby's assessment of his line's play matches that of the Penguins in Game 3. The Capitals outshot Pittsburgh 49-23 and had an 85-36 advantage in total shot attempts, including 64-31 5-on-5, according to War-on-Ice.com.
Video: WSH@PIT, Gm2: Holtby stones Crosby on the doorstep
The Penguins still won the game 3-2 but only because rookie goalie Matt Murray was sensational in making 47 saves, and Pittsburgh took advantage of its rare scoring chances.
"We just weren't aggressive," Crosby said. "When you're aggressive you force mistakes, you don't allow them time and space. They're a good team and if you give them time and space they're going to make plays. Maybe we were overthinking things a little too much, or maybe once you get a lead it's hard not to sit on it a bit. I think we were guilty of that."
Crosby hasn't played poorly in this series. He's had some chances, including a 2-on-1 break with Sheary on the first shift of Game 1, when Crosby's backhand shot went wide to the right. He's been in the offensive zone and played with the puck below the hash marks. He just hasn't produced any tangible results to help the Penguins. It hasn't helped that their power play has looked anemic in going 0-for-10.
Crosby said his line hasn't produced at even strength because he doesn't believe it has had enough quality zone entries to put enough pressure on the Capitals, to force them to back up on a consistent basis.
Video: PIT@WSH, Gm2: Carlson knocks down Crosby
He said Washington gaps up well in the neutral zone, and his line needs to chip the puck past them and use its speed to go get it. The problem is the Capitals are doing a good job taking away Sheary, who is the fastest player on the line and one of the best at getting to the puck first.
Asked if he tries to be more of a shooter when his line is struggling to score, Crosby said he hasn't even had many chances to shoot so it's a moot point.
"Have they generated scoring chances? Yes," Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said. "Can they do certain things better to try to create a little bit more? Sure they can. We've talked to those guys about that, but we believe as we go along here these guys are determined guys and they're going to do everything in their power to try to score for us."
Ovechkin did that to help the Capitals in Game 3. The Penguins have to assume they'll have their hands full with him again in Game 4, especially without suspended defenseman Kris Letang, which means it's time for Crosby to exert his will to force the Capitals to deal with him instead.
Video: Caps talk Letang, solving Matt Murray
Basic analysis will tell you that if Crosby does that, Ovechkin will be less effective because the Capitals won't have the puck as much.
"He had a few chances off the rush last game, he's had a few chances in zone," Sullivan said. "When you get deeper into the playoffs teams are better defensively and it's harder to create those types of opportunities or maybe the number of opportunities. I think an element of patience is going to be really important with our top guys and making sure that they don't get frustrated, and that they just stay in the moment, keep continuing to play the right way. I think they've done a terrific job to this point and I believe that they'll continue to do that."