The storyline may center around two unique talents, but this is everybody’s moment to share.
It’s a night to forget about teams in financial ruin and unpunished sucker punches. The only downside to Wednesday night’s Game 7 between the Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins is that, sadly, there won’t be a Game 8.
This little thing Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin have going has illuminated the league and sport in places previously unaware of its allure.
On Tuesday night’s edition of ESPN’s Pardon the Interruption, Mike Wilbon and Tony Kornheiser debated whether the Caps-Pens series eclipsed the classic seven-game battle waged by the Boston Celtics and Chicago Bulls in Round 1 of this year’s NBA playoffs.
And they did it during the show’s first segment, not as a tacked-on, oh-by-the-way footnote at the end of the telecast, where hockey usually resides unless Sean Avery has done something truly off the charts.
The excitement generated by Crosby and Ovechkin is basically akin to the Sammy Sosa-Mark McGwire 1998 homerun chase, sans steroids.
Just when you think the one-upmanship has to end, Ovie wires one under the bar or Sid slams in another goal from three feet out.
These two guys haven’t just lived up to the overwhelming pre-series hype; they’ve blown by it as if it was a lead-footed, old-world NHL defenseman.
This moment has become hockey’s equivalent of the underdog New York Giants taking on the undefeated New England Patriots in the Super Bowl or the Boston Red Sox clawing back from a 3-0 series deficit against the hated New York Yankees.
Quite simply, it’s that big.
It’s not just that Crosby and Ovechkin have factored in on more than half – 56 percent to be exact – of the total goals scored in this matchup, it’s the omnipresent sense that anything can and will happen. And when it does, get ready for it to be even more unbelievable than you dared expect.
So what’s in store for Game 7?
In keeping with persistent chatter about the personality chasm between these two, there’s a wonderful contrast of styles on the ice, too. At first blush we all thought it was simply a shooter versus passer thing, but Crosby’s six goals through the first six games of this tilt turn that theory on its ear.
Conversation around the THN office after Game 6 focused on how Crosby, somehow calm and driven all at once, took that contest over in its late stages by using everyone around him to create a collective elevation, then went out and popped the tying goal.
In truth, the Canadian boy plays with more awareness and use for his surroundings, while the Russian bull tends to charge down the ice on his own.
But anybody who wants to paint Ovechkin as too much of an individual player must note that in a Game 6 where he didn’t find the back of the net himself, he helped teammates locate it with assists on three Caps goals.
The delight is in the differences with these two and it will be fascinating to see how they play out. If you told me one of these stars was going to have a sturdy seventh game, contribute a goal, a couple of assists and a few key plays without the puck along the way, I’d expect Crosby and his pack of Penguins to be the victors.
If you told me Game 7 produced hockey’s first stamp-worthy moment since Peter Forsberg’s Olympic goal in ’94, I’d know for certain Ovechkin had once again done something previously unwitnessed en route to a Washington win.
Whether this thing ends with a gap-toothed grin or a subdued celebration belying deep satisfaction, let’s all – hockey fans old and new – soak in the final chapter of this spectacle.
Who knows when we’ll see its equal.
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Ryan Dixon is a writer and copy editor for The Hockey News magazine, the co-author of the book Hockey’s Young Guns and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Wednesdays and his column, Top Shelf, appears Fridays.
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