Alex Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby saved the game of hockey forever

Alex Ovechkin, Sergei Ovechkin, Washington Capitals Mandatory Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports
Alex Ovechkin, Sergei Ovechkin, Washington Capitals Mandatory Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports /

In the early 2000s the NHL was struggling. Their popularity compared to the other leagues across professional sports was not good. There was a lockout in 2004 through 2005 that only made the situation worse. But there was still hope when the league was shutdown. In the 2004 NHL Draft the Washington Capitals selected Alex Ovechkin.

In the 2005 draft, it was the Pittsburgh Penguins turn at the number one pick and they used it to select Sidney Crosby. When the league returned in the fall of 2005 there they were as the new faces of the game. And what happened when they first took the ice inspired the current and future generation of stars.

Ovechkin told Rob Rossi of The Athletic:

"“We saved the league. Now (new NHL stars) come in, and I guess we’re old news. But we saved it. It’s up to those guys to come in and prove me wrong that we’re not the best.”"

The Caps and Penguins weren’t too good early on in Ovechkin and Crosby’s careers but soon they became the teams to beat in the Stanley Cup playoffs. In 2009 the whole hockey world watched as the two met in their first playoff series together.

While the Penguins would go on to win that series in seven games en route to Crosby’s first Stanley Cup, everyone still talks about Game 2 of that series. Not only did the Capitals win that game 4-3 but Ovechkin and Crosby each had hat tricks.

The Penguins and Capitals would go on to meet three more times in the playoffs in 2016, 2017 and 2018. Those first two of those three consecutive meetings resulted in heartbreak for Ovechkin’s Capitals and their fanbase.

But in 2018 Ovechkin finally defeated his rival and went on to hoist his first Stanley Cup. Game 6 was one to remember for Capitals fans on May 7, 2018 as they finally exorcised their past playoff demons. One month later was the magical night of hoisting the Cup defeating the Vegas Golden Knights in five games as they defeated former Penguin nemesis Marc Andre Fleury.

While fierce rivals on the ice there is mutual respect between the two. They get to hang out together at All Star games and awards ceremonies and the way they interact with each other at those events shows zero animosity.

While Crosby has the upper edge on Ovechkin in overall points, Ovechkin leads Crosby in goals by miles and has a chance to eclipse Wayne Gretzky’s mark of the most goals of all time. Even Penguins fans I’ve talked to want to see Ovechkin break the record.

While those two fanbases don’t like each other, they have grown accustomed to the mutual respect of each other’s teams. And both fanbases know that it’ll be just as sad to see their rival player retire from the game as it will be to see their own.

As I’ve written hundreds of articles about Ovechkin over the years and got to firsthand feel the rivalry when covering those three playoff series, I too have grown admirable of both players and the greatness they’ve displayed.

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I’ll be sad when Ovechkin retires but I’ll also be sad when Crosby does. They made the game of hockey fun again. We won’t have many Ovechkin vs. Crosby matchups to look forward to for much longer but we will relish every single one going forward.