Crosby stands in Ovechkin’s way in quest for Cup

Aims to flip lop­sided ri­valry

The Washington Times Daily - - SPORTS - BY STEPHEN WHYNO

Sid­ney Crosby is stand­ing in Alex Ovechkin’s way again. Of course.

Crosby’s Pitts­burgh Pen­guins ex­tin­guished two of the Wash­ing­ton Cap­i­tals’ best Stan­ley Cup hopes in 2009 and 2016, go­ing on to win the cham­pi­onship each time. Now as Ovechkin and the Cap­i­tals face a sum­mer of change, it’s only fit­ting that per­haps their best chance to win it all means go­ing through de­fend­ing cham­pion Pitts­burgh in the sec­ond round.

Ovechkin knows the play­off his­tory, the blowout loss at home in Game 7 in 2009 and the over­time loss on the road in Game 6 that ended last sea­son. He brought them up un­prompted Tuesday as if to try to bury them in the past.

“We play them twice in the play­offs and we don’t have suc­cess,” Ovechkin said. “We lost in Game 6 and Game 7. You just have to move for­ward. You don’t have to be afraid. You know you play against Stan­ley Cup cham­pion and they are very good team, but so we are. This bat­tle have to be done if we want to get suc­cess.”

In fran­chise his­tory, the Cap­i­tals have only beaten the Pen­guins once in nine play­off meet­ings. That mat­ters more to the re­spec­tive fan bases than play­ers, only a few of whom

are still around from 2009.

This sea­son brings a matchup of the top two teams in the reg­u­lar sea­son, put on a crash course to face off be­fore the con­fer­ence fi­nal by the NHL’s divi­sion play­off for­mat. Crosby said, “You kind of ex­pected we’d see each other at some point,” and the Cap­i­tals fig­ure no bet­ter time than the present to tackle their big­gest ob­sta­cle.

“You usu­ally have to go through the best team to get to where you want to go,” said cen­ter Jay Bea­gle, who is go­ing into his third Cap­i­tals-Pen­guins se­ries. “It was either now or maybe in the third round. Let’s do it now.”

What bet­ter time for a re­newal of Crosby ver­sus Ovechkin, which to this point has been a lop­sided ri­valry? Crosby owns a 38-21 record in their meet­ings in the NHL reg­u­lar sea­son and play­offs, world ju­nior cham­pi­onships, world cham­pi­onships, World Cup and Olympics.

Ovechkin, the No. 1 pick in the 2004 draft, and Crosby, the No. 1 pick in 2005, have been stars for more than a decade and have been com­pared to each other for longer than that. They spent some time to­gether at the gath­er­ing of the NHL’s top 100 play­ers dur­ing All-Star Week­end and their friend­ship has evolved over time.

“We re­spect each other,” Ovechkin said. “That bat­tle be­tween me and him, it’s great. I think me and him en­joy it, you guys en­joy it, fans en­joy it. But right now it’s not about me and him, it’s about Caps and Pen­guins.”

Crosby and Ovechkin are quick to de­flect the spot­light to star team­mates — Pitts­burgh has Ev­geni Malkin and Wash­ing­ton has Nick­las Back­strom — and shift the fo­cus to team play. Over his three years as Cap­i­tals coach, Barry Trotz has seen Ovechkin grow up and his pri­or­i­ties change.

Trotz has seen Ovechkin cel­e­brate team­mates’ goals harder than his own and lan­guish in losses all while putting up goals at a faster clip than any­one in this gen­er­a­tion.

The only thing that has evaded the three-time Hart Tro­phy win­ner and six-time Rocket Richard Tro­phy win­ner is the Cup. Trotz said Ovechkin un­der­stands what he means to the team, the league and what’s left un­done “be­fore the sun sets on his ca­reer.”

Ovechkin is 31 and still has four years left on his con­tract. But with winger T.J. Oshie, de­fense­man Karl Alzner and oth­ers set to be un­re­stricted free agents — and the salary cap crunch­ing the Cap­i­tals, too — there’s an ur­gency about winning this year.

That means try­ing to fi­nally get over the sec­ond-round hump.

“It’s a big op­por­tu­nity for us to beat the Stan­ley Cup cham­pion and play the next team in the third round,” Ovechkin said. “Ob­vi­ously we’ve never done it be­fore. It’s a big op­por­tu­nity for us to move for­ward and get suc­cess.”

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

The Cap­i­tals’ Alex Ovechkin has won three Hart and six Rocket Richard tro­phies, but the Stan­ley Cup has evaded him.

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