Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
If you haven't been impressed by the first two playoff games between Alexander Ovechkin's Washington Capitals and Sidney Crosby's Pittsburgh Penguins, I'm guessing hockey isn't your sport.
Naturally, the first playoff series to feature Ovechkin and Crosby has generated a great deal of attention in the hockey world. The good news for the NHL is that two games into the series, the NHL's two biggest superstars have actually lived up to the hype.
In Game 1, Crosby scored first and was matched later in the opening period by Ovechkin. That set the stage for an amazing second encounter, which featured hat tricks by both players in what was a classic case of one-upmanship.
Even the fact that Washington has won both games and could possibly be headed to a quick series win hasn't been enough too overshadow the individual play of Ovechkin and Crosby at this point. It has helped that the Capitals have won both tests by one-goal margins and that both teams have engaged in a fan-friendly, up-tempo style of play.
Heading into this series, there was a great deal of talk about the differences in the personalities of Crosby and Ovechkin, but such trivial side-stories have fallen by the wayside in the wake of the offensive prowess displayed by both players. Ovechkin's goal celebrations, and Crosby's distaste for his Russian foe's exuberance, are matters of little concern when both players are skating and shooting at such a high level.
Ovechkin's hat trick was naturally more impressive than Crosby's since his team won the game, but No. 8 also showed the ability to score from just about anywhere on the ice while Sid the Kid's goals came from in close. That being said, Crosby had the most highlight-worthy score of either contest when he batted the puck out of mid-air from an awkward side angle to complete his hat trick.
Hat tricks are not a common occurrence in the playoffs and two players on opposing teams pulling off the feat in the same game is obviously even more unusual. In fact, Crosby and Ovechkin were just the fourth duo in NHL history to record hat tricks for opposing clubs in the same playoff game. The last time it happened was in 1996 when Joe Sakic of Colorado and Vancouver's Trevor Linden scored three goals apiece.
Hockey fans, even those outside of Pittsburgh and D.C., seem to believe they are forced to choose between Crosby and Ovechkin, but any true devotee of the sport should relish watching both players display their skills. Watching the stars go tit-for-tat in the first two games, one can't help but be impressed at the passion and competitive drive Crosby and Ovechkin both possess in spades.
There is also no guarantee that this series will become an annual occurrence, even though the Caps and Pens should be a mainstay in the postseason for years to come. That's why hockey fans should savor this moment - it could be a few years before the teams meet in the playoffs again, and when they do, it's not a cinch that Crosby and Ovechkin will still be considered the top two talents in the game.
CHICAGO'S COMEBACK KIDS
The St. Louis Blues had a rough time scoring goals against Roberto Luongo in the opening round of the playoffs. The Chicago Blackhawks, on the other hand, have treated Vancouver's superstar netminder like the proverbial rented goaltender we hear so much about.
The Blackhawks and Canucks are tied at one game apiece after battling in Games 1 and 2 in Vancouver, but Chicago could easily be up 2-0 if not for slow starts in both contests.
The Canucks led 3-0 heading into the third period of Game 1, only to watch Chicago score the next three goals tie the score. Vancouver would go on to win that battle, but the Blackhawks proved the point that they can score in bunches on Luongo if necessary.
Vancouver grabbed a 2-0 edge early in the opening period of the second test, but the Blackhawks responded with five straight goals en route to a 6-3 victory. To put that offensive explosion in perspective, Chicago scored five goals in over 15 minutes of play, while St. Louis had the same amount in its entire four-game sweep at the hands of Vancouver.
Chicago's young and speedy forwards have simply proven to be too much for the Canucks to handle at times, and the mismatch has resulted in plum scoring chances for the 'Hawks. Scoring opportunities that even a supreme puck-stopper like Luongo have been unable to do anything about. Chicago has also done an excellent job of getting bodies in front of the net to help screen Luongo.
The Blackhawks' ability to come back so far in this series has given the club a great deal of confidence, although that sense of self-assurance would be greater served if Chicago could dominate Vancouver from the start, rather than saving the offensive fireworks for the final two periods.