Watch Alex Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby Lock Horns While You Still Can
This could very well be the final time we see Crosby and Ovechkin go at it at their peak and on teams that are legitimate Stanley Cup contenders.
Photo by Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports
Alex Ovechkin will be facing Sidney Crosby in a high-stakes playoff series this round, possibly for the last time.
Sure, the Washington Capitals and the Pittsburgh Penguins will probably cross paths in the postseason again thanks to an NHL playoff format that emphasizes divisional rivalries. Then again, one team could be a wild card and cross over into the other division, lessening the chances of a meeting. Or maybe the NHL changes its playoff format, as it has a penchant for doing, and that prevents a Caps-Pens matchup. Now that I'm typing this out, maybe the NHL does yet another realignment and the Capitals wind up in the American Conference (whatever the hell that is) and the Penguins are placed in the Cities Attacked By Batman Bad Guys Conference.
Sorry about that. Got a little sidetracked.
The point is, this could very well be the final time we see Crosby and Ovechkin go at it while both are still at or near their peak powers on teams that are legitimate Stanley Cup contenders. The aforementioned unpredictability of the playoff format is one reason, but most of it has to do with Ovechkin and the Capitals, and the cruel nature of time and the pesky salary cap.
Kevin Shattenkirk, Karl Alzner, T.J. Oshie, Justin Williams, and Daniel Winnik are all scheduled to become unrestricted free agents after the season and it's possible nobody returns no matter how the Capitals fare in the playoffs. If this group comes up short, why bring them all back? If this group wins it all, those UFA prices will be sky high for a team without a lot of cap space and that needs to sign key restricted free agents this summer.
The complexion of the two-time defending Presidents' Trophy winners will undoubtedly change for the worse to some degree. Will the Capitals still be a playoff team? Sure, but they can't be counted on to be the juggernaut we've seen the past two seasons.
Then there's Ovechkin. Sweet, beautiful, rapidly aging and potentially declining Ovechkin.
He will enter next season as a 32-year-old coming off the least productive season of his career. His 33 goals are the second fewest of his career; his 69 points might be nice for other players but are the fewest he's had in a non-lockout season, and his 313 shots are by far his fewest over an 82-game season. He's as durable as ever but it's possible we're looking at the start of Ovechkin's back nine, which will be better than 99 percent of most players' front nines but a back nine nonetheless. He can still produce big numbers in these playoffs, but we might not see the consistent greatness we've witnessed regularly since 2005-06 ever again.
Crosby, meanwhile, will be 30 next season, and while he's coming off his best season since 2013-14, let's be real—he's turning 30. Don't kid yourselves. That's old, especially in hockey. The body doesn't bounce back like it did. Hangovers that didn't exist in your 20s are suddenly so painful that you ask your significant other to smother you with a pillow. At any moment, Crosby could become—GASP!—a 70-point player, the hockey equivalent of waking up with headache in the morning after three beers.
Even if the Penguins' window stays open beyond this year, Crosby will be looking across the way at his Capitals neighbors trying to pry their window open with a crowbar. If the Penguins are running over a weaker Capitals team in the first round next year, it just won't be the same.
That's what makes these two weeks so special—it's Rocky and Apollo one more time before we get to the sequels where Rocky makes us sad.
This postseason has been about the changing of the guard to a large extent. It didn't quite happen in Toronto, but Auston Matthews and the Maple Leafs announced their presence against the Capitals. Connor McDavid and the Edmonton Oilers could legitimately reach the Stanley Cup Final. The Chicago Blackhawks and the San Jose Sharks (and the also-ran Los Angeles Kings and Tampa Bay Lightning) are no more. A tide is coming to wash away the elite teams of the past eight years.
The Penguins and the Capitals are the teams of the present, and Crosby and Ovechkin each can still win a series on his own. Even while missing their best defenseman and goaltender, the Penguins at 80 percent of their power are good enough to beat anybody if they get past Washington. This is likely the series that determines this year's champions. It's practically last call for the Capitals, and it's wonderful that it's once again Crosby and those damn Penguins standing in Ovechkin's way.
Don't take this for granted. Who knows how many years it will be before we again have two Hall of Famers on Cup contenders meeting in the playoffs?
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