Sidney Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin played a spectacular game of one-upmanship on Monday night. The two biggest superstars in the NHL recorded dueling hat tricks in front of a fever-pitched Verizon Center crowd of nearly 19,000 screaming Capitals fans.
You could almost hear Sid the Kid and Alex the Great singing to one another from the bench…
Anything you can do I can do better,
I can do anything better than you!
Very rarely does a superstar matchup live up to the billing and hype surrounding the two stars at the center, but so far Crosby and Ovechkin have exceeded any and all expectations that could have been expected.
For the second game in a row Sidney Crosby opened up the scoring.
In a first period that saw nine total penalties, Crosby ended Pittsburgh’s 0-for-17 power play slump by registering a power play goal just 6:38 into the opening stanza by poking a rebound under Varlamov’s pad.
Not to be outdone, Ovechkin registered his first goal of the game 2:18 into the second.
Crosby had an answer, however, when he banged his second goal of the game behind Varlamov at 10:57 of the second period.
Dave Steckel, who would prove to be the deciding factor of the game, registered his second goal of the series at 15:49 of the second and sent Washington into the locker rooms tied with Pittsburgh at two.
The third period saw the culmination of an entire game’s worth of hard work when Alexander Ovechkin netted two goals at 12:53 and 15:22 to complete his hat trick and put the Capitals up 4-2.
Ovechkin’s first goal came off of a face-off in the Penguin’s zone just four, count ‘em four, seconds into an Evgeni Malkin penalty. A bang-bang play, Ovechkin sent a scorching one-time just above Penguin netminder Marc-Andre Fleury’s glove for Washington’s only power play goal of the game.
In typical Ovechkin style, Alex the Great made a phenomenal individual effort on Penguin defenseman Sergei Gonchar and sent a blistering wrister past Fleury, going top-shelf again.
Deafening chants of “MVP, MVP, MVP” rang down from the frenzied Washington crowd as they showered the ice with hats. One of hockey’s greatest traditions drew the ire of the Penguins Captain.
"People kept throwing hats," Crosby said of the long delay. "And I was just asking if he could make an announcement to ask them to stop."
With time winding down in the third, Crosby completed his hat trick by batting a puck out of mid-air behind Varlamov at 19:29 for Pittsburgh’s second power play goal of the game; this is the second time this postseason that Crosby has batted a puck out of mid-air and into the back of an opposing net, a point worth mentioning as it really is a lot harder than it sounds.
Crosby’s hat trick was the first postseason hat trick for a Penguin since Martin Straka registered three goals in a 4-2 home victory on March 25, 1999 against the New Jersey Devils.
"It's nice to score," Crosby said. "But it's better to win. ... I'm sure it's entertaining for people to watch, if I were to look at it from a fan's point of view. As a player, you don't like when the guy on the other team gets a hat trick. That's usually not a good sign."
While this back and forth game of can-you-top-this has been wildly entertaining for fans of either team, Crosby’s ominous words are true for this series as Washington is now up 2-0 on a very talented Pittsburgh squad.
"When you build up hype of superstars playing against each other, and then the superstars play like superstars, it's a neat thing," Washington coach Bruce Boudreau said.
Crosby and Ovechkin apparently got the message, as both now have four goals in this series, and Crosby leads all postseason players with eight goals.
"Sick game. Sick three goals by me and Crosby," said Ovechkin
This game marked only the fourth time that opposing players registered hat tricks in the same postseason game; Mark Messier (EDM) and Paul Reinhart (CGY) registered the first set of opposing hat tricks on April 14, 1983, Ray Ferraro (NYI) and Al Iafrate (WSH) followed on April 26, 1993 and Trevor Linden (VAN) and Joe Sakic (COL) had the other set on April 25, 1996.
This game also marked the first playoff hat tricks for Crosby and Ovechkin who accomplished the feat in 33 and 16 games respectively.
The Penguins, who out-shot Washington 36-33, were unable to solve Simeon Varlamov again, except for that Crosby fella of course, and are really hurting for contributions from their other stars; Chris Kunitz, Petr Sykora, Jordan Staal and Matt Cooke have yet to score in the postseason and Billy Guerin hasn’t registered a goal in six games.
The most noticeable lack of production is coming from Evgeni Malkin, the NHL regular season points leader.
Malkin, who was also leading the NHL in postseason points after the first round, has not scored a goal in five games, and has been frighteningly absent these first two games against Washington.
Malkin’s impact has been counter-productive for the Penguins in this series so far, and was in the penalty box for drawing a tripping penalty when Ovechkin scored his second goal of the game.
"I just go out and play my game," Malkin said. "Sure, need to play better because we're down. I need to score."
Malkin continues to be the x-factor of this star-studded series, and if Pittsburgh is to have any chance of coming back, Malkin is going to need to regain his scoring touch.
As the series shifts to Pittsburgh for games three and four, Washington can expect the same kind of reception the Penguins got in their home arena, and fans should be expecting more of the same exciting play that has made this series a treat to watch so far.
Washington is riding into Pittsburgh on a franchise-record five game winning streak, and they have a young goaltender standing on his head in net right now.
"It's a battle of the two best players in the league, and tonight both of them carried their teams," Washington defenseman Mike Green said. "We were fortunate we had Alex at the top of his game, and then had some guys like Stecks and these guys that are fourth-line guys pitch in, and that's all it takes to win."
The Capitals are getting contributions from nearly everyone on their roster, something Pittsburgh is sorely missing. This is the first time that Pittsburghhas lost consecutive games in regulation since Dan Bylsma took over in mid-February, but don’t expect the Pens coach to waver from his team’s strategy.
"Belief is a big part in what you're doing and how you're doing it," said Bylsma. "In situations like this, it's difficult. We're not where we want to be and we're disappointed at this point in time with being down 2-0, but you have to draw on what you know and experience. I also think we have a belief that we can win hockey games if we play the right way."
Pittsburgh is playing good hockey, but so is Washington. Whichever way this series plays out, the NHL is in good hands with Crosby and Ovechkin at the helm.