When the NHL returned to play for the 2005-06 season, it was the dawning of a new era in the League. A tighter interpretation of the rulebook was the mandate, with the hope that offensive players would be able to shine more like they had in the past.
Leading that charge was an 18-year-old wunderkind from Nova Scotia and a 20-year-old rifleman from Moscow.
Five years ago today -- Oct. 5, 2005 -- Sidney Crosby
and Alex Ovechkin
made their NHL debuts, and the League forever has been changed by their presence.
And since that night, the two have been indelibly linked in what has become the best individual rivalry in the League.
For Ovechkin, it started in Washington, with an explosive hit and a pair of goals in a 3-2 win against the Columbus Blue Jackets
. On his first shift, just 40 seconds into the game, Ovechkin hit the Jackets' Radoslav Suchy
so hard behind the Columbus net that a glass-support broke and fell onto the ice. Then, at 7:21 of the first, with Capitals trailing, Ovechkin one-timed a Jeff Halpern
pass past Pascal Leclaire
. In the second, with the Caps down 2-1, he scored a power-play goal to tie the game.
"I was fortunate to be around Steve Yzerman when we had the run from the mid-1990s until his retirement in 2006. You look for your leader to be your best player in the biggest games and Steve did that for us. Crosby and Ovechkin have done that for their teams. ... This battle is going to go on for a lot of years."-- Red Wings' GM Ken Holland
He made an immediate impact in the game and on those around him.
"He was worth the admission tonight," Columbus coach Gerard Gallant
said. "He was real good."
"I feel my dreams come true," Ovechkin said. "I play in the NHL. First game, we win."
At the same time, 223 miles north at in East Rutherford, N.J., Crosby was living the same dream, but without the positive result. He had an assist on the Pens' lone goal in a 5-1 loss to the New Jersey Devils
Like Ovechkin, Crosby made fans immediately.
"The kid's going to be a great player in this League for a long time," said then-teammate Mario Lemieux
. "I thought he played well and didn't look out of place at all."
"I felt comfortable out there," Crosby said. "I think I created some things ... and while it's nice to get the point, what you play for is to win."
Their post-game comments set the tone for their public perception -- Crosby the more serious, Ovechkin more fun-loving.
But the desire to win burns in both, and it's been seen in their personal and team rivalries. Crosby holds an 11-8 record in their 19 regular-season meetings, but what's most remembered is their head-to-head, seven-game battle in the second round of the 2009 Eastern Conference playoffs. From their remarkable dueling hat tricks in Game 2 to the 8 goals each player scored, it was a series that somehow lived up to an Everest-level billing.
"Before the series started, we realized what it would be with the hype -- Ovechkin vs. Crosby," said Bill Guerin
, then Crosby's teammate. "But you know what? It's good for the game. It really is. Two of our brightest stars. And everybody should know who Sidney Crosby
and Alexander Ovechkin are. They're just great athletes."
The rivalry may have hit its peak that night in Washington, but rest assured there's more to come. They'll be in the spotlight New Year's Day when the Penguins and Capitals meet in the 2011 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh. And they'll also be two of the major players in HBO's "24/7 Penguins/Capitals: Road to the Winter Classic," a behind-the-scenes look at the build to one of the highlights of the 2010-11 season.
And beyond that, who knows? Could another playoff series be in the future? Both players are entering their peak seasons, so whatever happens certainly should be memorable.
"I was fortunate to be around Steve Yzerman
when we had the run from the mid-1990s until his retirement in 2006," Red Wings GM Ken Holland said. "You look for your leader to be your best player in the biggest games and Steve did that for us. Crosby and Ovechkin have done that for their teams. ... This battle is going to go on for a lot of years."
Contact Adam Kimelman at firstname.lastname@example.org