Monday, February 8, 2010

Wow! What a game! No I'm NOT talking about the Super Bowl. Like many championship heavyweight fights, the best bout was during the under card.

While maligned in the main for its lack of mass appeal and low TV ratings, the National Hockey League provided the most thrilling and memorable contest on Super Bowl Sunday. The Verizon Center in Washington D.C. had a playoff atmosphere. While I'm sure some of that can be attributed to the Washingtonians who were just excited to be out of the house after enduring over two feet of snow; the main reason for the electricity in the air was because of Pittsburgh's Sidney Crosby and Washington's Alex Ovechkin. Combined, the pair has accounted for a Stanley Cup, three MVPs, two scoring titles and a rookie of the year award.

If you'll recall, I wrote last spring how their 7-game playoff series (won by the Penguins) was nothing short of brilliant to watch. Why? Because the top two players in hockey continually live up to their billing; and Sunday was no different. Crosby got the Penguins off to a quick start scoring the game's first two goals. Ovechkin got his team on the board in the second with his league-leading 40th goal of the season. Then the Penguins seemingly took control of the game as they mounted a 4-1 lead in the second period. The Capitals seemed to lose their composure as things got chippy between both clubs. It has truly become a heated rivalry.

Ovechkin came to the rescue. Trailing by two in the third period, he scored twice; tying the game and collecting his 9th career hat trick in the process. It should come as little surprise he assisted on the game-winner in overtime as Mike Knuble poked in the rebound after Ovechkin's shot went off the goal post. Ovechkin's four point effort keyed the Capitals 5-4 victory, its 14th in a row.

This burgeoning rivalry between the two teams and the two stars could be just what the NHL needs. Not since the days of Gordie Howe vs Maurice "The Rocket" Richard in the mid 1940s have two superstars battled each other with so much on the line.

Why didn't I include Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux? For one, Gretzky was already established and winning championships long before Lemieux entered the league. Second, they played on opposite coasts, meaning they only faced each other once a year during the regular season. Finally, by the time Super Mario was winning back-to-back Stanley Cups in '91 & '92, The Great One was done winning championships.

Whether Crosby vs Ovechkin lives up the historic battles Howe's Red Wings had with Richard's Canadiens remains to be seen. But it should make for some compelling theater.

Jason Brown

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