Imagine how it would feel to be constantly compared to and repeatedly upstaged by someone? To have multiple attempts to finally be the victor, only to see it spoiled time and again?
That was the purgatory Alex Ovechkin was subject to before ever playing his first NHL game.
Now, I am not talking about individual achievements. Everybody knows that Ovechkin has been rewarded in that aspect. From the Calder Memorial Trophy to seven Rocket Richards, Ovi is one of the most decorated players of all time. But all of those accolades have paled in comparison to the two glaring omissions on his resume; defeating Sidney Crosby and winning titles.
The two have met on all of hockey’s grandest stages, and each and every time they have, the result has been unchanged: Sid the Kid always bests the ‘Great Eight.’
The string of disappointments for Ovechkin began when he was just a mere teenager. In what is considered by many to be the greatest World Junior Hockey Championship of all time, Ovechkin would come up short against Crosby for the tournament’s gold medal.
Settling for silver is a heartbreaking moment for anyone. But for a durable player like Ovechkin, helplessly watching his team lose after exiting with an injury must have been excruciating.
Unfortunately, this was just the start.
In 2009, the pair met for the first time in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The showdown hockey fans had waited four years for finally came to fruition, and didn’t disappoint.
In Game 2 of the series, the two rising stars exchanged hat tricks, with Washington winning and taking a 2-0 series lead. Nevertheless, Crosby and the Penguins erased the deficit and came back to beat the Capitals in Game 7 before going on to defeat the Detroit Red Wings in the Stanley Cup Final.
The next heartbreak for Ovechkin would happen on a much larger stage.
During the 2010 Olympics, Canada and Russia met in the quarterfinals. The Canadians stumbled out of the group stage with just a single regulation win, while Russia collected seven out of a possible nine points.
None of that mattered when the puck dropped in Vancouver.
Canada routed the Russian’s in the quarterfinal 7-3, and went on to advance to the gold medal game — which was of course decided with Crosby scoring the game-winning goal on Canadian soil.
The next Games were in Ovi’s backyard, setting the scene for the Russian star to have his moment.
It never happened.
Russia struggled to make it out of its group and was quickly disposed of in the quarterfinals by Finland.
A great embarrassment for a player like Ovechkin, who has always been passionate about representing his country. Adding insult to injury, Canada won gold for a second consecutive time, with Crosby notching a goal in the final.
In 2016, the Washington Capitals won the Metropolitan Division and owned the league’s best record. And after they defeated a different Pennsylvania foe, the Penguins awaited them in Round 2.
Ovechkin registered nine points compared to Crosby’s two points in the series, but it was to no avail. The Capitals lost and later watched the Penguins win a second Stanley Cup in the Ovechkin-Crosby era later that summer.
Up 2-0 in Stanley Cups and Olympic gold medals and still, there was more punishment for Alexander the Great to endure.
After another league-best regular season, the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs presented yet another opportunity for Ovechkin’s Capitals to finally muscle their way past Crosby in Round 2.
And despite clawing back from a 3-1 deficit in the series, it ended up being no different than the rest. In Game 7, Pittsburgh shut out the Capitals in the do-or-die clash en route to winning their second Stanley Cup in as many seasons.
That brings us to 2018.
Like clockwork, the stars aligned and Crosby-Ovechkin was on the bill once again.
With reason, many expected history to repeat itself. Besides, Ovechkin’s Capitals weren’t the Presidents Trophy winners of the previous two seasons any longer.
Ovechkin will never be on Crosby's level.
— Ryan Michak (@rmichak12) April 29, 2018
Ovechkin has not aged as well as Crosby. Ovi floats all game, Crosby constantly making things happen. Not even a question as to who’s better at this point.
— Matt Lueken (@Matty_Lueks) April 29, 2018
Now Ovechkin gonna go lose to Crosby again.
— This JustIn (@JDiggity2114) April 24, 2018
But the narrative would change, and did so in fitting fashion.
First, in a pivotal Game 3 with the series tied 1-1, the Capitals’ sniper showed up at the game’s most crucial juncture, scoring with a Crosby-like finish with just over a minute left in regulation to steal the win.
With three goals and five points in the first three games of the series, Ovechkin had secured the advantage again.
But here’s the thing: Ovechkin has always produced. The only difference in 2018, and with another chance to eliminate the Penguins, was that more and more of his Capitals teammates were able to follow his lead.
This time they did what they could, bit by bit, to finish the job.
So it was almost more fitting that it wasn’t Ovechkin who scored the overtime winner, but that he, once again, put a teammate in position to do something special with a delicate breakaway pass in overtime of Game 6.
From several strides behind overtime hero Evgeny Kuznetsov, Ovechkin surely must have felt the weight of the world come off his shoulders.
Alex Ovechkin is going to the Eastern Conference Final for the first time in his career pic.twitter.com/OPWJzggq3i
— Ian Oland (@ianoland) May 8, 2018
After repetitive disappointment and discouragement, the Great Eight finally got his moment – a win over the man, and the team, which had constantly bested him.
But his story is not over, in fact, he is only halfway there.
Now that Alexander the Great has slain his rival, there remains one spot yet to be solidified; he now must return to town a champion. It will be no hero’s welcome if the captain can’t come back with a crown.
Eight victories cemented, eight still to be decided.