Who needs the Super Bowl when you got the best two players in the sport and their respective teams going at it in what was a classic. Or as Doc Emrick justifiably noted along with NBC sidekicks Pierre McGuire and Mike Milbury, this was a playoff game played between the Penguins and Capitals who didn't give an inch. The amazing aspect of Alex Ovechkin's Caps' riveting come from behind 5-4 overtime win over Sidney Crosby's Pens is I only caught the tail end after missing the opening 40, signifying how special both were and how truly blessed we are to have these guys playing our game.
I'll readily admit that I thought it was a bit much with heavy snow making travel so hectic for the Pens that they had to alter plans just to get there so the NBC noon game could go on as scheduled. However, big props to the NHL for getting this one right because this was spectacular. On Super Bowl Sunday, I just wonder how well they did ratings-wise. It's the kind of game that can really attract new fans, scoring big for the league. If only hockey drew better than their beloved golf which they immediately cut to following the exciting conclusion that saw a nicked up Ovechkin rifle one off the post that Mike Knuble swept home for the winner that extended Washington's win streak to 14. Three shy of the league mark ironically held by the Pens (March 9-April 10, 1993).
How well are the Caps playing? Against the defending champs who ended their season last year, they climbed out of a 4-1 hole to keep the streak alive. The Pens built the lead thanks to a first period pair from Crosby, who with No.'s 38 & 39 matched his career high set back in his rookie year ('05-06). Sandwiched around Jordan Staal's deuce, Ovechkin scored the first of three. Despite missing nine games, the electrifying Russian leads the league with 42 goals, 86 points and a +41 rating. Entering his fifth season, he was only a career plus-19. As great as Sid The Kid is playing along with Henrik Sedin, it looks like Ovie could become the first player to win the Hart three straight years since The Great One, who won a record eight straight ('79-80 thru '86-87). Wayne Gretzky owns a record nine MVPs. Amazingly, Super Mario won just three.
Still trailing late in the second, one of the Caps' role players Eric Fehr put home his own rebound slicing it to two. Ovechkin took over from there scoring twice and setting up Knuble's power play decider. He started it by whistling a backhand rebound past Marc-Andre Fleury at 6:51 from Tom "Orr" Poti and best kept secret Nicklas Backstrom. With the crowd going nuts as furious action went end to end, Ovechkin took an innocent hit to the hip that bothered him. With Emrick and Co. noting that something was wrong after he limped off the bench for a shift, Alexander The Great silenced the trio by getting his hat trick off a faceoff, sending a plethora of hats onto the ice.
Following the delay which probably irked Crosby (flashback reference), an absolutely dreadful call by ref Tim Peel- who somehow confused a composite plastic stick break into a Jeff Schultz phantom slash- handed the Pens a power play. However, they couldn't take advantage of the break thanks to a couple of big saves from Jose Theodore and some strong penalty killing, especially Matt Bradley. Pittsburgh still got momentum off it generating a few chances with Evgeni Malkin dangerous. Theodore quietly made a few timely stops to force OT.
In it, nothing was decided until Brooks Orpik foolishly high-sticked Alexander Semin, handing the Caps the only chance they needed to end it. Off a faceoff win, Backstrom patiently passed to Mike Green who dished across for an Ovechkin sizzler which rang off the post and right to Knuble, who earlier took a Fleury whack but still steered home his 21st with 2:21 remaining. It sent the packed home crowd into a frenzy and touched off a celebration as Washington continued to roll. Their 41 wins and 88 points pace the league. Three better than West-leading San Jose. The only question is can they bring home the franchise's first Stanley Cup with Theodore (31 saves) sharing the load with rooks Semyon Varlamov and Michal Neuvirth. While Varlamov remains out, both Theodore and Neuvirth have held down the forte. What happens when he returns? Guess that's for Bruce Boudreau to decide. Regardless, they're going to be a handful to beat in a seven-game series.
The Super Bowl is a couple of hours away between the Saints and Colts. But at least in our book, the real one already took place. America. Please take note.
BONY 3 Stars:
3rd Star-Mike Knuble, Wsh (PP OT winner, assist, 17 PIM)
2nd Star-Sidney Crosby, Pit (2 goals-38th and 39th tie career high)
1st Star-Alexander Ovechkin, Wsh (hat trick-league leading 40, 41, 42 plus assist)