Friday, April 28, 2017
Kevin Allen , USA TODAY Sports
April 28, 2017
Washington Capitals left wing Alex Ovechkin (8), of Russia, skates next to Pittsburgh Penguins center Sidney Crosby (87) and goalie Marc-Andre Fleury (29) during the third period of Game 1 in an NHL hockey Stanley Cup second-round playoff series, Thursday, April 27, 2017, in Washington. The Penguins won 3-2 (Nick Wass/AP)
WASHINGTON — Matt Cullen was in the playoffs with the Carolina Hurricanes in 2009 but he remembers watching the first time Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin met in the playoffs.
“I think everybody did,” Cullen said. “It’s what hockey is all about. It’s been exciting when those two play each other since the beginning.”
Crosby and Ovechkin have historically brought the best out of each other, and it was true again Thursday when Crosby scored twice in a 64-second span at the start of the second period to lead the Pittsburgh Penguins to a 3-2 win against the Washington Capitals in Game 1 in the Eastern Conference semifinals. This was a meeting of the Nos. 1 and 2 teams in the NHL and the NHL's No. 1 and No. 2 players of the past decade.
“For Crosby to come out and spark us like that was big, especially when you are playing on the road and starting out the series,” Cullen said.
As anyone who knows their history would expect, Ovechkin scored later in that period on a 35-foot shot to start a Washington comeback. He also had six hits in the game.
In their careers, Crosby and Ovechkin have played 55 games against each other in the regular season and playoffs. Ovechkin has 36 goals and 29 assists for 65 points in those meetings and Crosby has 30 goals and 47 assists for 77 points. Included in their meetings was a playoff game in 2009 when they each netted a hat trick.
“They’re both driven,” Washington coach Barry Trotz said. “I don’t think they’re driven by the other guy’s success or whatever. I think they’re just driven athletes. That’s why they’re in the top 100 in the history of this league. They’re the faces of both franchises. They’re special athletes, both those guys, and they look for those big moments and they capitalize on those big moments.”
After Ovechkin regained some momentum for the Capitals, they eventually tied the game at 8:05 of the third period on a goal by Evgeny Kuznetsov. Nick Bonino gave the Penguins the game-winner with 7:24 left in regulation.
Pittsburgh goalie Marc-Andre Fleury preserved the win with brilliant goaltending in the third period. He made 15 saves in the period, including a few memorable ones during a long, chaotic scramble in front of his net. The puck seemed to disappear a couple of times, but Fleury was able to track it and make critical saves.
"I don’t know if I’ve played with a quicker goalie,” Cullen said. “He is so good at finding pucks and reacting so quickly. He covered a lot of ground in a short period of time.”
But it was difficult not to be drawn to Ovechkin and Crosby in this game.
“We hadn’t played for a little bit, so we really wanted to establish the way we wanted to play and I thought it we did a pretty good job of that,” Crosby said.
Cullen said he could sense Crosby was primed for a productive game.
“He was a threat all night,” Cullen said. “He was dangerous. He was attacking."
It was the kind of game you would expect when Ovechkin and Crosby play each other.
Said Cullen: “They are always kind of linked, like Mario (Lemieux) and (Wayne) Gretzky.”