Last year, Sidney Crosby captained the Penguins to a Stanley Cup. This year, he captained the Metropolitan Division to a win in the 2017 NHL All-Star Game.
After beating the Atlantic 10-6 in the semifinal, the Metro defeated the Pacific 4-3 in the final on Sunday afternoon at Staples Center to get the victory. As a result of the win, the players will split a $1 million prize.
"It was great," Crosby said afterward. "Our bench was pretty loose. We had a lot of fun there."
Behind that bench was Wayne Gretzky, who stepped in to replace Columbus' John Tortorella after he was forced to miss the game because of a family emergency. And he made the coaching decision to play Crosby alongside Alex Ovechkin in the 3-on-3 format for a pairing that was exciting for hockey fans.
"It was fun," Ovechkin said afterward. "I think we had some pretty good chances. … We were able to score some goals. We just talked about how we were going to play out there, if we were losing by one, what we were going to do. Simple things."
When asked if the longtime rivals were buddies now, Ovechkin responded with a grin:
"Yes. Best friends."
Those goals came against the Atlantic in the semifinal. Crosby and Ovechkin were held off the scoresheet in the first 10-minute period (each game consisted of two halves), but they each scored in the second.
Crosby got on the board first when Ovechkin sent a pass over to Rangers defenseman Ryan McDonagh, who found Crosby at the front of the net for a quick backhand. Crosby returned the favor later when he sent a perfect cross-ice pass over to Ovechkin at the side of the net, who tapped it in.
Crosby said what stood out to him about skating alongside Ovechkin was his competitiveness.
"It's just funny, he's into it," Crosby said with a smile. "You don't have to remind him to be competitive or go out there and try extra hard. He wants to win. I think just seeing that enthusiasm, you see what makes him so good is how bad he wants it but also how much he loves the game. That's a big part of why he's able to do what he does year after year."
Once they advanced to the Final, that competitiveness began to spread amongst the group.
"You're there, you might as well try to win," Crosby said. "You could see the intensity. Guys backchecking and blocking shots. It started to get a little more serious there as it went along. That's to be expected. All the guys here are competitive."
Thanks to spectacular goaltending from Washington's Braden Holtby and Columbus' Sergei Bobrovsky - along with a coaching challenge from Gretzky on what would have been the tying goal from Edmonton's Connor McDavid - the Metro was able to come away with the win.
"We didn't make it easy on them," Crosby smiled of the netminders. "They're coming in kind of cold there too sometimes. Some of those saves were incredible. That's not easy getting thrown in there and seeing what they're seeing. There's a reason why they're here.
"Who would've thought the offside rule would have come into play there," Crosby continued while laughing. "But you need the bounces if you're going to win."
It helped they had the motivation of the prize money.
"You don't really think about it and then everyone's talking about that when you get in the Final," Crosby said. "I think there's enough motivation and incentive to win when you get out there, just the competitive nature of guys. But it's nice."
Philadelphia's Wayne Simmonds was named MVP, and when asked if it was possible to be happy for a Flyer, Crosby began laughing.
"For a quick moment. A brief moment," he laughed. "It's funny, it's going to a quick turnaround here. We're going to be playing against him, it'll be heated and we'll be in scrums in a few days. But I think we all share the way we love playing the game and we love being a part of this. So it was great to see him do well. Things will go back to normal here, I'm sure, in a few days."
The win capped off a fantastic weekend for Crosby, playing in the All-Star Game for the first time in 10 years (he missed the others due to injury and the Olympics).
"Just an overall great experience for a lot of different reasons," Crosby said. "Playing with all these guys, getting the opportunity to meet the top 100 and everyone that's part of that group. They just did an amazing job the way it was organized. We were taken care of really well as players. Hats off to the fans, the organizers, everything that went into this. It was a really enjoyable weekend for everyone and our families."