Alex Ovechkin #8 of the Washington Capitals and Sidney Crosby #87 of the Pittsburgh Penguins skate after the puck in Game Two of the Eastern Conference Second Round during the 2017 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Verizon Center on April 29, 2017 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON – In the matchup between hockey's marquee players, 87 is greater than 8 through two games of the Eastern Conference semifinals between the Penguins and Washington Capitals.
That's not a slight to 8, Alex Ovechkin, who is hardly to blame for the 0-2 hole his Capitals find themselves in.
It's more a compliment to 87, Sidney Crosby, who has been a driving force for the Penguins.
Crosby made two key plays in the second period to lead the Penguins to a 6-2 victory in Game 2 Saturday night after they were dominated in the first period.
First, he took a pass from Jake Guentzel that was a couple of feet behind him and played it between his skates without slowing down to start a two-on-one that ended with a Phil Kessel goal.
Next, he dropped to his knees to block a Justin Williams shot in the defensive zone, springing Guentzel for a two-on-one that led to the goal that gave the Penguins a 3-1 lead.
"It was nice to get a lead," Crosby said. "We had a tough start. They were coming pretty hard. To get through the first tied was a big plus for us. … We just wanted to try to get momentum in the second. We couldn't really get it in the first. It was nice to get a go-ahead goal from Phil there."
Crosby was also instrumental in a 3-2 victory for the Penguins in Game 1. He scored two goals in a 52-second span to jump-start the Penguins offense early in the second period.
Add it up, and it's two goals, two assists and a plus-4 rating in the series.
"He's the best 200-foot player in the game in my estimation," coach Mike Sullivan said. "He plays at both ends of the rink. He defends as well as he plays with the puck and creates offense.
"He's a committed guy right now. I think he sees an opportunity for this team to have success and he leads by example. When he does that, he's inspiring to his teammates and certainly his coaching staff. I can't say enough about Sid's leadership. I think his play speaks for itself, but his leadership, both through his example on a daily basis and the influence that he has on our young players and the rest of our group, I can't say enough for it."
Saturday's two-assist effort improved Crosby's already lofty standing in the team's record books.
He moved past Jaromir Jagr for sole possession of second place on the team's all-time playoff scoring list with 148 points in 131 games. Mario Lemieux leads with 172.
It was also the 52nd multi-point playoff game of Crosby's career, breaking Lemieux's franchise record in that category.
"It's nice," Crosby said. "Played in a lot of playoff games over the years. Been a part of some good teams."
Crosby's next challenge, of course, is to help the Penguins keep their foot on the gas pedal when the series shifts to Pittsburgh for Game 3 Monday night.
"There's things we have to improve on," Crosby said. "I thought in the second and third, we got to our game a little more. We knew they were going to come out pretty hard. I still feel like there's some areas where we can get better."
Ovechkin, meanwhile, will be trying to ignite his team's comeback efforts.
The Capitals captain has hit the scoresheet in both games in the series, recording a goal in the opener and assists on both Washington goals Saturday night.
He has taken six shots on goal and attempted six others. He's a minus-2 for the series.
"They win two games in our building, so we just have to go up there and try to win the third one," Ovechkin said. "The series goes to four games. When you lose four, it's over. Of course it's tough, but we're looking forward to it."
THE SERIES: Penguins lead, 2-0.
LAST GAME: Phil Kessel and Jake Guentzel scored two goals apiece as the Penguins survived a rocky first period and beat the Capitals 6-2 in Game 2 Saturday night.
NEXT GAME: The Penguins will return to PPG Paints Arena, where they are 33-6-4 this season, for Game 3 Monday night.
A NOTE: The Penguins have won the first two games of a playoff series 18 times in franchise history. They've won 16 of those series, losing to the Islanders in 1975 and Flyers in 2000.
A QUOTE: "I think we were happy we got away with 0-0 after the first. Started playing better there in the second half of the second period, and then we had a good third. We've got to build off of that." – winger Carl Hagelin
A NUMBER: 5 – Penguins players who blocked at least three shots in Game 2 Saturday night. Olli Maatta led the way with six blocks.
Jonathan Bombulie is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter at @BombulieTrib.
Editor's note: Visit triblive.com for the Chipped Ice A.M. report every morning the Penguins play or practice throughout their series with the Capitals.