Mike Emrick remembers the atmosphere being electric inside Verizon Center in Washington.
It was one of those special nights when the game lives up to the hype and the stars shine as bright as everyone hoped they would on the big stage. Or as Emrick put it, "Both guys got the big performance."
It happened May 4, 2009, in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals between the Washington Capitals and the Pittsburgh Penguins. Emrick was there to call the game as the play-by-play announcer for Versus (which became the NBC Sports Network in 2012).
Alex Ovechkin had his first Stanley Cup Playoff hat trick for the Capitals and Sidney Crosby had his first playoff hat trick for the Penguins. The Capitals won 4-3 to take a 2-0 lead in the best-of-7 series.
"The pingpong contest began in the first period," Emrick said. "And it was just, 'Who can do better?'"
The dueling hat trick game between Ovechkin and Crosby eight years ago remains one of the most memorable ones Emrick, 70, has called during his 44 years of professional broadcasting. Nothing has matched it so far during this season's Eastern Conference Second Round series between the Capitals and the Penguins, which Emrick has been working for NBC and NBCSN.
Video: Memories: Ovechkin and Crosby record hat tricks
The Penguins lead the best-of-7 series 3-1 after a 3-2 win in Game 4 on Wednesday. But Crosby missed Game 4 because of a concussion sustained in Game 3 and his status for Game 5 at Verizon Center on Saturday (7:15 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, TVA Sports) is unknown. So Crosby and Ovechkin might not get another chance to go head-to-head this season.
In the first playoff series between them, in 2009, each scored a goal in Game 1, which Washington won 3-2 on a third-period goal by Tomas Fleischmann. But that was just a warmup for Game 2.
Crosby struck first, knocking in the rebound of Sergei Gonchar's point shot for a power-play goal to give the Penguins a 1-0 lead 4:09 into the game. Ovechkin tied it 1-1 at 2:18 of the second period by taking a pass from Viktor Kozlov and ripping a shot from the left circle past goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury.
The Penguins took a 2-1 lead on Crosby's goal at 10:57 of the second, when he slid the puck under goaltender Semyon Varlamov from in front. David Steckel got the Capitals even at 2-2 with 4:11 left in the period.
Ovechkin took over in the third period, scoring twice in a span of 2:29. His power-play one-timer past Fleury gave the Capitals a 3-2 lead with 7:07 left in the period. Then, after skating in 1-on-1 against Gonchar, Ovechkin took a wrist shot from between the circles that went past Fleury's glove with 4:38 remaining to make it 4-2 and complete his hat trick.
But Crosby wasn't done. With Fleury on the bench for an extra attacker, Crosby took three whacks at the puck before finally batting it out of midair and into the net for his third goal of the game to bring Pittsburgh within 4-3 with 30.4 seconds remaining in the third.
The Capitals held on for the win and took what appeared to be a commanding lead in the series.
"The place was rocking because it looked like this was going to be the time that they were going to put the demons to rest," Emrick said. "Leaving the ice that night they had to be thinking, 'I think we might have this now.'"
They didn't. The Penguins won the next three games to take a 3-2 series lead before the Capitals stayed alive by winning 5-4 on Steckel's overtime goal in Game 6 in Pittsburgh.
But that was the end of the drama. The Penguins routed the Capitals 6-2 in Game 7 and went on to the win the Stanley Cup.
The Capitals still have not gotten past the second round of the playoffs since 1998. But Crosby and Ovechkin put on a show that night and in the series.
Crosby had 13 points (eight goals, five assists) in the seven games. Ovechkin had 14 points (eight goals, six assists).
"Alex is always considered to be the playoff failure because his team doesn't win," Emrick said. "But when you look at what he's contributed, I don't think that's fair. Look at his numbers and when he's scored goals. In the first, second, third, fifth and seventh games [in the series] he scored goals. That sounds like a contributor to me."