PITTSBURGH (AP) -Hard to believe but, only four seasons into the career of the player once called the Next One, Sidney Crosby isn't the face of the Penguins-Capitals playoff series.
From all that's being written and said about the star in the other team's uniform, it's almost as if Crosby is just another face in the crowd.
Crosby remains the poster boy - OK, the poster Kid - for what the NHL considers to be all that's right, good and exciting, but he isn't the biggest name going into a series that begins Saturday in Washington. That's Capitals showpiece Alex Ovechkin, the reigning MVP and a finalist for the award this season.
Sure, Crosby led the second-half resurgence that carried the Penguins into the Eastern Conference semifinals for the second successive spring, and he had more than 100 points for the third time. But Crosby isn't the most valuable player on his own team - NHL scoring champion Evgeni Malkin is - and he's one of the three finalists for the Hart Trophy that goes to the league MVP.
Sidney Crosby, overlooked at age 21?
Penguins coach Dan Bylsma noticed the perceived slight, too, fielding so many questions about Ovechkin this week that he finally said, "We have really good players, dynamic players who certainly are right in there with him (Ovechkin)."
Given the unmistakable rivalry between the two teams and their multiple stars, was it any surprise Crosby excitedly sent a text message to a teammate seconds after the Hurricanes beat the Devils on Tuesday, assuring the Penguins-Capitals matchup?
"Yes, it's a rivalry ... but I don't know how you want to describe it," Crosby said Thursday. "What's a rivalry? It's intense. We compete and we're competitive, and usually when we play each other we both try to raise our games."
Raise their voices sometimes, too. Crosby, the 2006-07 scoring champion, and Ovechkin, the 2007-08 scoring champion, shoved each other and appeared close to fighting Feb. 22 in Washington because Crosby didn't like how Ovechkin was taunting him.
"We were kind of chirping back and forth, and that's hockey, but the taunting was what I didn't like about that," Crosby said.
Two players with different styles, different personalities and different perceptions.
In Pittsburgh, Ovechkin is seen as a flamboyant showboat who isn't a two-way player, cares only about scoring goals and tries to hurt players with his big hits. In Washington, Sid the Kid is viewed as Sid the Cry Baby, a goodie-two-skates who becomes upset when he doesn't get his way.
"We're different people, that's the bottom line, and people like to make a lot of stories behind that," Crosby said. "Some people like his style, some people like my style, it doesn't matter. We're just different and that's why I think a lot of people find it interesting. Because you have two guys who've had success pretty early in their careers and do it a different way or show it in a different way."
Early in the season, Ovechkin sidekick Alexander Semin caused a stir in Pittsburgh by saying Crosby is an overrated byproduct of the NHL's hype machine. It was evident the Penguins captain didn't care for the unsolicited evaluation of the skills that have enabled him to get 132 goals and 397 points in 290 career games.
"I don't know what sparked it really, but I think when he made that comment, he (Crosby) had some crazy streak where he had like 18 points in his next seven games," defenseman Brooks Orpik said. "Not that the kid needs any more motivation, I mean we joke around how about crazy he is when it comes to being competitive."
Actually, it was 18 points in nine games and 23 points in 11 games, or about two points per game. No wonder none of the Capitals were condescending or spoke critically of Crosby on Thursday.
Crosby's excitement about playing Washington, his teammates said, reflects the motivation most elite players have to prove themselves against the best. Even if Crosby said all he wants is to win.
"Do I wake up hoping to see Ovechkin fail? No, I don't," Crosby said. "He's a guy I play against and he's a great player and we're competitive against each other but, you know what? There's an element there where the media puts us up against each other, and that's just the way it is. We're not best friends, but a lot of that is made up."