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Crosby-Ovechkin latest playoff battle of superstars

NHL's best have gone head-to-head in chase for Stanley Cup for nearly 100 years

by Dave Stubbs @dave_stubbs / Columnist

MONTREAL -- A Stanley Cup Playoff series is an intricate machine of many working parts.

Its major gears are goaltending, defense, forwards, power play/penalty kill and coaching. The nuts and bolts can include the emergence of the unheralded; the ditch digger who overnight becomes the artist, performing in unexpectedly brilliant ways.
A playoff series is about the so-called "seventh man"; the fans, who can play a role in helping to change the momentum of a shift, a period or much more.

And don't forget the wonderfully abstract intangibles, all the little things that can and must happen for one team to triumph over another.

Still, there is only so much room on the arena marquee, so it's often superstar vs. superstar that is displayed with the brightest lights.

Not often does a head-to-head matchup live up to unreasonably lofty expectations. If the star is an offensive leader of his team, odds are he won't be skating against his counterpart.

Of course, this won't stop the hockey universe from talking about the Eastern Conference Second Round series between the Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins, more commonly referred to as Alex Ovechkin vs. Sidney Crosby. Every series needs a hook, and Ovi vs. Sid is as good as it gets.

Video: 2009 Round 2, Gm2: Ovechkin, Crosby double hat-tricks

The fascination with head-to-head matchups of stars on opposing teams isn't anything new. No doubt there was great buzz (well, maybe moderate buzz) in 1918 when the Toronto Arenas became the NHL's first Stanley Cup champion. Toronto sniper Alf Skinner scored eight times in five games against the Pacific Coast Hockey Association's Vancouver Millionaires, whose star, Cyclone Taylor, poured nine into the Toronto net.

For nearly a century, more than a few great NHL stars have been face-to-face on the road to Stanley Cup glory, or heartbreak. Here are a few:

1948: Syl Apps, veteran captain of the Toronto Maple Leafs, vs. Gordie Howe, a Detroit Red Wings sophomore whose toes were barely wet in the playoff waters. The Maple Leafs swept the Red Wings 4-0 in the Final; Apps scored four goals and had four assists in his nine playoff games that spring, Howe scored the first of his 68 career playoff goals.

1960: The Montreal Canadiens won 10 consecutive playoff series en route to their unprecedented five straight championships, and the core of that team was more than the NHL could handle. The Canadiens' greatest stars of that era were Maurice "Rocket" Richard, Jean Beliveau, Bernie "Boom-Boom" Geoffrion and Dickie Moore. Staring them down and usually blinking first were the playoff-rival likes of New York Rangers' Andy Bathgate, Detroit's Howe, Boston Bruins' Fleming MacKell and Don McKenney, Toronto's Frank Mahovlich and Red Kelly, and a young Bobby Hull of the Chicago Blackhawks.

1962-64: Mahovlich exacted his revenge with teammate Dave Keon in a run of three straight Stanley Cup titles during which Toronto got the better of Howe and Beliveau. Howe had enjoyed more than a little success of his own, having won four championships with Detroit in the 1950s.

1971: The final season in Beliveau's illustrious career saw him go out with his 10th Stanley Cup title as a player (he won seven more as a senior vice president of the Canadiens). In his swan song, Beliveau famously went up against Chicago's Hull and Stan Mikita and in the Final after helping to dispose of Boston's Bobby Orr and Phil Esposito in the Semifinals.

1983: Mike Bossy scored a League-high 17 playoff goals for the third straight postseason, helping the New York Islanders to their fourth straight Stanley Cup title. In the Final, Bossy was pitted against a 22-year-old Edmonton Oilers center named Wayne Gretzky, whose 26 assists that postseason led the League. Gretzky arrived in the playoffs having had led the NHL in the regular season with 71 goals, 125 assists, 196 points, six shorthanded goals and 348 shots on goal. After being swept by Bossy's Islanders, he was still waiting for his first sip from the Stanley Cup … but that was soon to change.

1988: Gretzky won his fourth Stanley Cup title in five seasons with the Oilers. Superb opponents like Boston's Ray Bourque and Cam Neely, Detroit's Steve Yzerman, Lanny McDonald of the Calgary Flames and Dale Hawerchuk of the Winnipeg Jets were lost in The Great One's shadow; the Oilers only lost twice that postseason.

1992: Super Mario vs. the Moose; for name value alone, you'd never find a better marquee matchup. Pittsburgh Penguins' superstar Mario Lemieux scored 16 goals and had 18 assists despite playing in 15 of his team's 21 playoff games. His assists, eight power-play goals and five game-winners all were League highs, and he led the Penguins to their second Stanley Cup title. In the Patrick Division Final, Lemieux would butt antlers with the Rangers' Mark Messier, aka "Moose." Messier won five Cup titles in Edmonton and had one more to come with the Rangers as captain -- in 1993-94.

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