For now, the debate is over.
Sidney Crosby is the best hockey player in the world.
No player in the NHL plays as hard as Crosby from the opening puck-drop, to the final whistle.
For seven games against Alexander Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals, Sid the Kid played all-out every time he stepped on the ice.
In a series that had everything, three overtime games, five one-goal games and two teams that were tied or separated by one goal for 92 percent of the time (until game seven that is), nothing was more entertaining to watch than the game within a game between Crosby and Ovechkin.
The two best players in the world played a glorious game of one-upmanship for the first six games of the series.
When Ovechkin scored, Crosby scored.
When Ovechkin recorded a hat trick in game two, Crosby matched him; they became only the fifth pair of opposing players to record hat tricks in the same postseason game.
Everytime Alex the Great made a spectacular individual effort, Crosby answered with a highlight of his own.
"You know what, he won't say he likes [to be] front and center, the big stage or anything like that, but he just really knows how to perform in it and he really stepped up," linemate Billy Guerin said of Crosby.
Fact is, when the lights shine brightest, Crosby plays his best.
No one will forget Crosby’s magnificent postseason performance last year when he carried Pittsburgh to within two games of become Stanley Cup champions.
His leadership unquestioned, Sid the Kid led one of the most dominant runs through the Eastern Conference in recent history.
Pittsburgh won 12 of 14 games leading up to the Stanley Cup Finals, including seven in a row to start off the postseason.
The Penguins are one of the NHL’s youngest teams, and Crosby had that group of kids playing at a high level, maybe higher than they were suppose to, and he had the veterans believing the hype that surrounds him.
This year, Crosby is better.
He is more mature, more disciplined and has improved on all the aspects of his game that already made him that much better than the rest of the world.
No player uses his feet like Crosby, just take a look at his first goal in game seven if you had any doubts, and no player is better at batting a wobbling puck out of mid-air into the back of the net, catch a highlight of his third goal in game two if you don’t believe me.
You won’t find to many other players taking shots from one knee in practice like Sid does, nor will you find someone that goes out onto the ice after every game and goes through every scoring chance he missed the night before.
No superstar works as hard on both ends of the ice as Crosby, nor does a player of his caliber fight in the corners for loose pucks so vehemently.
Every shift of this second round series Crosby gave his all, while Ovechkin was non-existent at times when he didn’t have the puck.
His rink-vision is second to none, and there is not a better playmaker in the game today. Everyone that steps on the ice with the Kid instantly becomes a better player.
It is a rare ability, making those around you that much better by your presence. Few greats in sports history have been able to do so.
Think about it...to use another Penguins example…does anyone really believe that Kevin Stevens has four 40-goal seasons in a row, including back-to-back 50-goal marks, without Mario Lemieux?
Alexander Ovechkin is great for the sport of hockey.
Ovechkin is already the best goal-scorer of this generation, and he may go down as one of, if not the, best ever.
He is an exciting player to watch, and the most dangerous individual player in the game.
But Ovechkin does not make the players around him better the way Crosby does.
Ovechkin is a one-man show in Washington, despite being surrounded by all-star quality talent.
For all his physical gifts, Ovie does not do the things that Crosby does without the puck. He is not as aggressive as Sid when the rubber is not on his stick.
Sidney Crosby has now won seven playoff series, is returning to the Eastern Conference Finals for the second time and has a Stanley Cup berth under his belt.
The Capitals are 1-2 during the Ovechkin era in postseason series, and look to still be another year or two from Cup contention.
These two careers, that both started the season after the lockout, will be watched, broken down and analyzed for the next 15 years.
Who is better? Who demands more from himself, and his teammates? Which player has been more of a success? Who has more individual accolades?
In 290 games, Crosby has recorded 397 points (132 goals, 265 assists), won a Hart Trophy and won an Art Ross Trophy
Ovechkin, on the other hand, has registered 420 points (219 goals, 201 assists) in 324 games, won a Hart Trophy, an Art Ross Trophy and will most likely win the Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophy for the next 10 years.
For those keeping track, that’s a 1.37 points per game average for Crosby, and a 1.3 average for Ovechkin.
They are about as even as can be.
For all the “aw” that Ovechkin creates in Washington, Crosby has gained more in Pittsburgh.
“He’s out captain,” Penguins goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury said after the Pens game-seven win.
Those three words say more than any imaginative description of Ovechkin could ever say.
“Sid doesn’t need to say anything,” teammate Max Talbot said. “Sid’s just got this look in his eyes that you just follow. He won’t say, ‘We’ve got to work harder.’”
As a spectator, you can look into those eyes and see it too.
Crosby has this undying will to win. He is unrelentless in his pursuit of victory, and his intensity is unrivaled. He has the ability to will his team to great heights, and you know that his teammates will follow him wherever he happens to lead them.
Talbot added, “Sid’s a great player. Ovechkin’s a great player. [Malkin’s] a great player. But you look at the way Sid leads…Sid has that fire in his eyes.”
“After the second [period], we came in the room, after we got scored on before the end of that period, and you could tell,” Talbot continued. “His look was, like, ‘Let’s get this straight, we’ve got to play.’”
That fire has lead Pittsburgh to two series clinching wins on the road against Philadelphia and Washington.
That desire has given this version of the Penguins a level of resiliency that was not there last year.
"He's our leader. We go where he leads us. He did it all series and he did it again tonight, got us off to a 1-0 lead," Pittsburghdefenseman Mark Eaton said. "You could tell the end of Game Six how determined he was. You knew that was going to carry over into tonight, and it did, and everybody fed off of that."
For all the memories that the Penguins and Capitals provided us in the second round, it is a singular moment that will define this rivalry until Alex Ovechkin finds a way to beat Sidney Crosby on the biggest stage.
That moment came early in the third period when Crosby stripped Ovechkin of the puck, and skated the length of the ice on a breakaway while Ovechkin was left watching from his knees.
After Crosby put Pittsburgh ahead 6-1 with that goal, it was that single moment that will live on in the annals of NHL history for as long as these two great players grace the ice.
If you are looking for an image to remember from this series, look no further than a highlight that shows Ovechkin hanging his head on the Capitals bench after Kris Letang chased Simeon Varlamov from the game in the second period by putting Pittsburgh up 4-0.
Defeated, and deflated, a metaphorical towel was thrown in on behalf of Alex the Great.
Crosby gives you his all, and demands your best in return.
"You don't expect anything but the best from the guy next to you. Everyone holds true that responsibility," Crosby told reporters after their game seven win.
Sure sounds like someone that knows about being the best.
Hockey is in great hands with the young talent around the league, but Sidney Crosby is the best all-around player in the world.
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