TORONTO (Reuters) - Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin again have the hockey world buzzing as the two best players of their generation prepare to lead the Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals into a Stanley Cup second round showdown.
While a new rivalry is taking shape in Edmonton and Toronto with Oilers young gun Connor McDavid and Maple Leafs rookie Auston Matthews, the Crosby and Ovechkin storyline is one that has thrilled for more than decade and can still set pulses racing among hockey fans.
‘Sid the Kid’ and the ‘Great 8’, as they are respectively known, have long played down any personal rivalry but the two have been inexorably linked from the day they were selected with the number one overall picks in their respective drafts in the National Hockey League, and the debate over who is better has raged in pubs, arenas and newsrooms for 12 years.
The best-of-seven series, which opens on Thursday in Washington, could help bring clarity.
Both have trophy cases packed with individual honors but Crosby, the number one selection in 2005, has most of the important bling, notably two Stanley Cup rings and two Olympic gold medals.
Ovechkin has neither, leaving a massive hole in an otherwise dazzling resume.
The Capitals have not advanced past the second round of the NHL playoffs since Ovechkin, drafted first overall in 2004, set up shop in the U.S. capitol.
Crosby and the Penguins have proven a particularly troublesome roadblock, eliminating Washington in the second round last year and at the same stage in 2009 before going on to lift the Stanley Cup on both occasions.
“I think both teams know each other pretty well,” summed up 29-year-old Crosby. “We play in the same division and saw each other last year in the playoffs.
“Shouldn’t be any surprises.”
The top two teams during the regular season, the Capitals and Penguins rely on more than the superb play of their captains for success but it is the scruffy Russian sniper and the clean cut all-Canadian boy who fill the arenas and boost television ratings.
Ovechkin has won the Hart Trophy as the league’s most valuable player three times, Crosby twice.
The Russian has led the league in goal scoring on six occasions, while Crosby has his name on the Rocket Richard trophy twice, including this season.
For 31-year-old Ovechkin the next 10 months could define his legacy.
With their championship window closing the Capitals made some big moves at the trade deadline, signaling they were going all in on a Stanley Cup run.
Ovechkin also has Olympic gold on his mind having said he will skate for Russia in Pyeongchang next year despite the NHL indicating it will no longer participate in the Winter Games.
In other second round action Ottawa and Edmonton will wave the Canadian flag.
It has been 24 years since a Canadian-based franchise last sipped from Lord Stanley’s mug and the Senators and Oilers head into the last eight eager to end that drought for a hockey mad nation.
The Oilers faceoff against the Anaheim Ducks, while the Senators take on the New York Rangers.
In the other second round matchup, the St. Louis Blues go against the Nashville Predators.
Editing by Andrew Both