WASHINGTON -- Whatever expectations were in place for the first Stanley Cup playoffs showdown between Alexander Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby, the NHL's two marquee stars had demolished them by the end of Monday's Game 2.
Two hat tricks. A game-winning goal from Ovechkin. A valiant, MVP performance from Crosby in the best postseason he's ever had. And a playoff series between the Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins that, even with the Caps owning a 2-0 lead after their 4-3 win tonight, is already remarkable for its levels of competition and entertainment.
"Sick game. Sick goals by me and him," said Ovechkin.
"I think it's great for our sport," said Capitals Coach Bruce Boudreau. "When you have the hype of superstars playing against each other, and then the superstars play like superstars, it's a neat thing."
Crosby has eight goals in the playoffs, completing his hat trick on a batted shot that deflected past Simeon Varlamov during a 6-on-4 power play with 31 seconds remaining in the game. His goal with the goalie pulled showed impressive fight from the Penguins, as their backs appeared broken by Ovechkin when he completed his hat trick at 15:22 of the third period.
Ovechkin's rocket shot past Marc-Andre Fleury (29 saves) sent the red-clad Verizon Center crowd into hysterics; hats filled the ice at a furious pace, piling up near the Penguins bench. As soon as they were pushed aside by arena workers, another wave started flying over the glass, delaying the game's restart.
Crosby, ever the competitor, had seen enough of the celebration, and skated to the referee as head gear hit the ice.
"People kept throwing hats. I was just asking if he could make an announcement to ask them to stop. The first wave came, and then I think they were all pretty much picked up, and more started coming," Crosby said after the game. "I just wanted to make sure that we kept kind of moving, kept the game going while we tried to get back into it. Wasn't complaining about anything."
About Crosby's performance, there can be no complaints. But down 2-0, there are a few points of concern for the Penguins.
Evgeni Malkin, the NHL leader in points this season, had an assist on Crosby's final goal but otherwise had a frustrating game. He was unable to remain consistent at even strength or on the power play. He was handled physically by the Capitals in their own zone. Malkin also took a bad tripping penalty on Washington's David Steckel after Pittsburgh failed on a power-play attempt; Ovechkin scored what was the tie-breaking goal on the power play for his second of the night.
The Capitals were 38-23 on faceoffs. They bottled up the Penguins offense coming out of its own zone, a trouble spot during Game 1. Both the Ovechkin/Viktor Kozlov/Sergei Fedorov line and the checking line of Matt Bradley/Steckel/Brooks Laich dominated the Penguins for most of what was, at times, a very physical game.
(Boudreau, incidentally, is calling for the suspension of Penguins forward Chris Kunitz for a shot he gave Varlamov at the end of the game. Said Boudreau: "It was pretty vicious. It was a direct cross-check to his throat before Crosby scored. There was no puck there. We hope the League takes a long look at that.")
Varlamov made 33 saves in the game, and once again robbed the Penguins on several chances. Crosby's three goals all came on the doorstep; otherwise, Varlamov had strong positioning an occasional acrobatic saves.
Crosby believes the Penguins can still crack the rookie.
"He's made some timely saves. We can definitely do a better job of burying the puck, and capitalizing on our chances," said Crosby. "As a shooter, you have to make sure you bear down. We have to correct that quickly. There are times when he's kinda swimming in the crease."
The Penguins return home for Game 3 on Wednesday, facing an 0-2 hole for the first time since last spring's Stanley Cup finals against the Detroit Red Wings. Momentum can turn in an instant: Games 4 and 5 are on Friday and then Saturday.
Fleury is optimistic.
"It was a very close game. We can't panic. It's a tough start, but we're going back home and we can get back into this," he said.
"It's a tough one tonight, but we'll forget about it tomorrow."
The same can't be said of hockey fans who are witnessing a first playoff battle between Alexander Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby that won't be soon forgotten.
"People are entertained by it," said Crosby. "But at the end of the day, as a player, you want to win games."