There may be scrums in this series of Penguins-Capitals that make Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin look as if they were tied at the hip, which is appropriate. They can not escape from each other, on the ice or as conversation pieces. Sid and Ovi joined the league together in 2005. They are very different players and have had different careers in the Hall of Fame, but somehow they are inseparable.
Ovechkin has 1,122 career points; Crosby has 1,116.
Since arriving in the league, Crosby penguins have accumulated 1,273 points in the regular season standings; The capitals of Ovechkin have accumulated 1,253.
And yet, there is this flagrant difference and, of course, you know what it is all about. Crosby has won the Stanley Cup three times with Pittsburgh. He is the biggest winner of this generation of hockey, which makes him his best player. Ovechkin has never passed the second round, and his Caps have never beaten the Pens in three attempts.
It's tempting to blame the postseason mistakes of the Capitals on Ovechkin ("he's a loser!") And tempted to absolve him completely. Both would be reductive and lazy. But there is a fundamental difference between Crosby and Ovechkin, and it has been presented in the spring.
Crosby is a hockey sponge. He watches games all the time. He stays after the practice, at all times of the year, to turn his weaknesses into strengths, even when no one else saw the weaknesses. He loves the game as a little boy loves his favorite toy. He takes it everywhere. Touch all parts of it. You can not imagine a day without that.
Ovechkin is not like that. He is quite competitive on the ice, but may seem indifferent to him. He has never been known as a great practice player. He often shows up at the Caps facilities without having any idea what happened in the league the night before.
Every time the penguins take the ice, they know that their captain has done everything. Crosby is not only the most complete player of his generation; He is the most complete player he could be. He is Tim Duncan of his sport, he is Tom Brady. His attitude shapes his entire franchise.
Every time capitals take ice, they know that Ovechkin has not done everything. Now, they also know that he is an unparalleled goal scorer, that he really wants to win, and that they are always much better with him on his side. But they do not receive the injection of confidence that comes when your best player is your best worker. They have to import the leadership of other teams, with exchanges and signings of free agents, because their captain is not really a captain in the traditional sense. He is only his best player.
The penguins line up behind Crosby. The Capitals must line up around Ovechkin. This does not stop The Capitals from winning the Cup, but it makes them more difficult. In the playoffs, the margin between victory and defeat is very low. A complete series can end in a shot of a rebound in a two against one that only happened because someone finished a check and the disk shot off in the right direction, and even the winning team does not know exactly why it won. But it sure helps to know that you did everything you could before that moment.
When a team repeatedly loses in the postseason, we often say-or hint-that they are suffocating: the pressure came to them. Sometimes, that's true, and the postseason history of the Capitals is filled with so many collapses that it's easy to label them as grapples.
However, more often there are other reasons for repeated postseason failures, in all sports: injuries, luck, a hot goalie, running repeatedly in a super team. And sometimes, what seems to be drowning is actually an exposed team. This, at best, is what has happened to Ovechkin and the capitals. The Caps look a lot like their star: good enough to dominate in the winter, but not good enough to win in the spring.
And this brings us to this year's Caps-Pens series. The Capitals are in a rare position: they have postseason experience and local ice advantage, but they are still the least favored. Maybe that puts them in the right mental place to finally beat the penguins. Maybe those other factors (injuries, luck, a hot doorman) are finally on your side. Maybe Ovechkin has changed, slightly, or maybe it does not matter. Maybe capitals can make this their year. Many more strange things have happened, especially in the hockey playoffs. I'm sure the Ovechkin team believes they can win. But the Crosby team knows it can.