Ovechkin Gets Under Crosby's Skin
While the Caps-Penguins rivalry has been simmering for almost two decades, it's largely been a one-sided affair, with Pittsburgh almost always getting the better of Washington. Even in the post-lockout version of the rivalry featuring Alex Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby, the Capitals struggled against the Pens, going just 1-7-1 in the first nine meetings between the clubs since the two stars entered the league in 2005.
However, Ovechkin and the Caps have really turned the tables on the Pens this season, with the latest chapter having Washington taking the game to Pittsburgh in front of a sold-out Verizon Center crowd Sunday afternoon, and leading to a wild display between two Hart Trophy winners late in the second period. During an altercation along the boards, the Pens superstar tried to deposit Ovechkin into the Washington bench and then had to be restrained by a linesman, as Crosby's actions were met with a derisive wave from the defending league MVP and also some pointed comments after the game.
With the 5-2 win over the Penguins, Washington takes the season series from their old Patrick Division rivals for just the second time since 1993-94, with one game still left to play. The Caps are also now 4-1-1 against the Pens since Bruce Boudreau took over as coach last season, and winning all three meetings in regulation this season against Pittsburgh.
Ovechkin opened the scoring in the first period by blasting in his league-leading 43rd goal of the season with an early power-play goal off of a nice Nicklas Backstrom feed. Ovechkin then added a key assist in the second period on Washington's fourth goal of the afternoon, as he drew the Penguins' defenders by skating across the ice while Shaone Morrisonn was able to slide in on the opposite side to rifle a rebound over Marc-Andre Fleury's shoulder.
On the other bench, Crosby and the Pens were clearly frustrated less than 24 hours after a draining 5-4 win over Philadelphia, and he picked up just one assist on Sergei Gonchar's goal as the Pens largely were shut down despite being given nine power-play chances by Washington and a lengthy 5-on-3 advantage with the game still in doubt.
However, less than three minutes after Gonchar's goal cut the Caps' lead to 3-2, Washington took control as Morrisonn deposited in the rebound of the Ovechkin shot. The Caps then got a fluky insurance tally just 0:25 later, when Brooks Laich banked a shot off Fleury's back into the net, ending the goaltender's afternoon with Fleury making just 15 saves on 20 shots.
As the middle period wound down and trailing by three goals, the Pens' star got chippy with Ovechkin at the end of a shift, with Crosby trying to push the Caps' star over the boards and then yelling him right in front of the Washington bench. When a linesman pushed Crosby back towards his own bench to break it up, Ovechkin just waved his hand as Crosby continued to yell at him.
"[Crosby] started it," Boudreau said after the game. "Sidney was jawing at everybody... You see our bench talking to him, him talking to our bench and I think he was getting frustrated because he wasn't getting the freedom he had in this building before."
Ovechkin gave a blunt assessment of what he thought of Crosby.
"What I can say about him?" Ovechkin said. "He is a good player, but he talks too much."
Likewise down the hall, Crosby wasn't exactly flowing with love for his rival.
"Like it or lump it, that's what he does," Crosby said. "Some people like it, some people don't. Personally, I don't like it."
"I was just skating to the bench and he pushed me from behind," he added. "So I just gave him a shot back. That's hockey, and he likes to run around these days, so that was it."
"I play hard," Ovechkin responded. "If he wants to do something like hit me again, try to hit me again -- and I'll talk to you guys who plays dirty. That's my game. It's not cheap shots, it's a game moment. But he doesn't like it, it's his problem."
Indeed, the last time Crosby was at Verizon Center was just under a year ago, when Backstrom recorded an infamous own-goal in the game's final minute of a 4-2 Pittsburgh win that seemed to spell disaster for the Caps, as it kept Washington without a point with the team was chasing for one of the last playoff spots while the Penguins were en route to their first Eastern Conference title since 1992.
But things have changed a lot in the time since, with the Caps winning the two meetings with the Pens in Pittsburgh this season. While the Caps are now comfortably in the driver's seat in the Southeast Division with a 13-point lead over Florida, Pittsburgh is fighting for its playoff lives, sitting four points out of the last spot in 10th place in the Eastern Conference.
It should prove to be an interesting rematch in two weeks, as the Caps look to complete their first-ever series sweep of the Penguins. If it's anything like this Sunday's game, it should prove to be an interesting sequel of the rivalry that is starting to really turn Washington's way.