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Playoff battle takes Crosby-AO rivalry to new heights

by Dan Rosen
A generation ago, the rivalry between hockey's two greatest stars was all about intense water-cooler debates.

Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux played on opposite sides of North America for most of their careers. They never met in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Since 2005, Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin have had a similar type of who's-better rivalry with only regular season games--fiery ones, to be sure, especially this season--to provide the ultimate comparisons. As the sports' two greatest stars, "Sid The Kid" and "Alexander The Great" have been linked most by statistical and analytical comparisons since they joined the NHL.

That ends Saturday.

And, oh, man, will it be fun.

The highly anticipated and long-awaited Stanley Cup Playoff series between the Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins  (1 p.m. ET, NBC, CBC, RDS) is hardly just a one-on-one battle between Sid and Ovie, but they are the prevailing storyline, the reason for all the hype.

Evgeni Malkin, Alexander Semin, Mike Green, Sergei Gonchar, Marc-Andre Fleury and Simeon Varlamov will have plenty of say, but years from now this series won't be remembered for the other participants, no matter how they fare in the next two weeks.

Instead of Pittsburgh beating Washington or vice versa, this series will be remembered for the time Crosby topped Ovechkin or, of course, the time No. 8 beat No. 87.

If it was the Stanley Cup Final things may be different, but it's not. So, while neither Ovechkin nor Crosby will ever admit it -- after all, it is only the second round of the playoffs and the ultimate prize is still 12 wins away -- they have as much at stake personally in this series as their franchises do collectively.

That much is impossible to argue.

The NHL and its fans have awaited a rivalry for the ages like Gretzky-Lemieux since, well, Gretzky and Lemieux. These 20-somethings of the sport are about to give that rivalry to the hockey world--and beyond, both players are larger than life's usual frame--with all the fixings.

Crosby is the Ivy League, scholarly center, while Ovechkin is the big-school, big-campus, fraternity-boy left wing. You can already hear the hockey fans explaining to friends intrigued by this Russian rocket of a personality how the guy shoots right but plays left wing, why it works out so well.

There's more of the opposites: Crosby is a movie star; Ovechkin is a rock star.

Crosby keeps his emotions in check; Ovechkin lets his pour out all over the rink. Crosby is smooth, gritty, a visual genius; Ovechkin is 220 pounds of pure power and energy with an immeasurable amount of agility and, um, energy (did we say that already?).

Oh, one more thing. They don't appear to like each other too much either. That's the special sauce of this rivalry.

This is the moment we have all been waiting for. If they continue to play in their respective cities, there will likely be more of these seminal moments to come, but the first one always leaves a lasting impression.

Think Bird vs. Magic in the 1979 NCAA Men's Basketball Championship game. That was 30 years ago. The sports world, including a decidedly global appetite for the Canadian star facing the Russian star, is ready for this rivalry.

Crosby vs. Ovechkin puts the NHL at the epicenter of entire sports world in a way Gretzky vs. Lemieux never did, at least beyond the water cooler shout-outs.

No longer will Crosby-Ovechkin be a figment of our imagination, a smackdown of statistics. Saturday, they go for real.

Contact Dan Rosen at

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