Pittsburgh vs. Washington is the hottest rivalry in the league courtesy of the individual rivalry between Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin. The two superstars were drafted one year apart – both No. 1 overall – and broke into the league in the same season due to the lockout. Naturally, they’ve been compared every which way ever since, from awards to point totals to what kind of toothbrush they use.
Though overplayed a tad, Sid vs. Ovie is one of the main attractions of this year’s Winter Classic, as well as the league’s biggest marketing ploy for the event. Here are the top five moments between the NHL’s two best players when going head-to-head…
1. 2009: Dueling hat tricks – Game 2 Eastern Conf. Semifinals
This is probably the first game hockey fans think of when it comes to Crosby and Ovechkin, the second time they faced each other in the playoffs. Ovie scored two goals three minutes apart in the third period to give the Caps a 4-2 lead; in the process, he always leaped through the glass on those two tallies. The Capitals’ sniper took D.C. by storm, propelling the team to a 2-0 series lead over the hated Pens. The thing is, Crosby also scored a hat trick in this game despite the loss via his determination around the crease.
It was one of the more intense and memorable games the Pens and Caps have played in a long time. Sid and Ovie both scoring thrice was just the cherry on top.
2. 2009: The ‘Cat Fight’ – Feb. 22, 2009
It wasn’t a fight. It was more like a cat fight/fly-by/quick skirmish. In any case, their board meeting (for lack of a better term) back in 2009, I think, took their rivalry to new heights on a national level. Everyone saw it as the game was broadcast on NBC. Sid and Ovie crossed paths in front of Washington’s bench… Ovechkin ripped off Crosby’s helmet… Crosby yapped… Ovechkin signaled that Sid was a chicken. At that point, I believe the public saw first-hand that they aren’t quite the best of friends. ''He is a good player, but he talks too much," Ovechkin said afterwards.
Ever since that game (in which the Caps won convincingly), the games between the two teams have had more of a postseason feel. That skirmish – or, ‘cat fight’ – was a prelude to the playoffs later that spring.
3. 2009: Game 7 Eastern Conference Semifinals
If there’s one game that the critics point to when they state ‘Crosby is better than Ovechkin’, look no further than this one. Game 7’s can bring out the best in a player; but it can also display the worst. For Ovechkin, it was the latter. Despite scoring a goal (when down 5-0 no less), his Capitals took a 6-2 defeat to the chin on home-ice.
With all of the hype heading into the game, the Caps came out flat and were embarrassed. A good portion of the blame was put on Ovechkin’s shoulders for not rising to the occasion in the big moment. To make matters worse, No. 87 potted two goals and added a helper. Crosby’s Pens went on to play another month of hockey and won the Cup. Ovechkin and his teammates sat on the Game 7 loss all off-season.
4. 2010: Super Bowl Sunday – Feb. 7, 2010
For some reason, this seems to be a forgotten game when it comes to Caps-Pens and Sid-Ovie. Maybe because it was on Super Sunday; maybe because it was a regular season tilt. If you remember, a blizzard caused the Verizon Center to be three-quarters full and forced the Penguins take a detour to get to the nation’s capital.
Dan Bylsma’s crew was in control late in the second period, 4-1, thanks to a pair of goals from Crosby (and Jordan Staal). But it was Ovechkin who stole the show. The ‘Great 8’ netted two goals in the third to complete a hat trick and send the game to overtime, where the Caps eventually won 5-4; Ovechkin assisted on Mike Knuble’s game-winner. Referring back to the top moment above, this could have been 'Game 2-lite'. Nonetheless, it was one of the dozen memorable games they’ve played in recent years.
5. 2005/2010: Canada tops Russia at World Juniors and Olympics
These two events are small on the Richter scale, but still notable moments in this rivalry… just at the international level. Before they stepped foot in an NHL locker room, Crosby and Ovechkin battled for gold at the 2005 World Junior Championships in North Dakota. Canada’s team that year was considered one of the best in WJC history, and they proved it by cruising to a 6-1 victory in the gold medal game.
Five years later, the two nations met in arguably the biggest stage hockey has ever seen; Vancouver’s 2010 Olympics will go down in history as one of the best hockey tournaments ever. Canada and Russia (the two most talented teams in the Winter Games) faced off in the quarterfinals – again, with a lot of anticipation. But Crosby’s team once again embarrassed Ovechkin and company, topping the Russians 7-3 and going on to win gold.
Five moments in the first handful of years of this heated individual rivalry. Saturday’s Winter Classic will just be another chapter of what will make a pretty good novel some day.
Our podcast 'RLD Hockey Talk' is LIVE every Wednesday afternoon at 1:00 ET/Noon CT. Some of our notable guests in past episodes have been Dustin Brown, Doc Emrick, John Buccigross, Dave Strader, E.J. Hradek, Elliotte Friedman and Jay Grossman.