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So Far, Alex Ovechkin's Unbridled Aggression Trumps Sidney Crosby's Technical Superiority

On a night for transcendent offensive performances, the Capitals use an Alex Ovechkin hat trick and enough stops from goalie Simeon Varlamov to eke by three goals from Pittsburgh star Sidney Crosby at Verizon Center.

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By Mike Wise
Tuesday, May 5, 2009

The malice and force Alex Ovechkin struck that puck with last night with 7 minutes 7 seconds left was all you need to know about the difference between him and Sidney Crosby. The powerful blast that represented the winning goal became a one-shot referendum on why the Washington Capitals have the most electrifying player in the National Hockey League and the Pittsburgh Penguins do not.

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Two games into the Eastern Conference semifinals, this has become a series about the beauty and the beast, the heartthrob and the hulk.

Because the beauty, technical superiority and all-around productivity of Sid the Kid cannot yet match the unbridled aggression and fury of Ovie the Beast, it's no wonder the team who has the guy with the front tooth missing and an unkempt mop is leading two games to zilch.

They both were stupendous in Game 2, scoring postseason hat tricks for the first time in their careers, incredibly finding nooks and crannies between the pads, sticks and gloves of Gumby-esque goalies.

Six goals between the best two players in the game spoiled everyone in attendance at Verizon Center, a building hosting a Stanley Cup playoff series the past three days as much as it is an NHL renaissance.

But it's also a window into why Washington has won two games it has been outplayed in for long stretches, why the steady, strong and consistent play of Crosby's Penguins have fallen victim to the crucial moments Ovechkin keeps seizing, slowly siphoning the confidence from a Penguins team that reached the Cup finals a year ago.

Ovechkin, in less than 24 minutes of ice time, had 12 shots and five hits, and his two perfectly timed goals in the third period illustrated his ability to capture the moment. Crosby, in more than 22 minutes, took five shots, blocked two and had exactly zero hits.

This isn't an indictment on Sid the Kid, because every time Ovechkin's numbers or production is put up against Crosby there is an instant backlash against anyone who takes either side. Let's be clear: They're both otherworldly players who possess so much more skill and savvy than most everyone they play with or against.

But it's how Ovechkin found the space and time at the right moment in Game 2, how he always seems to combine his desire and skill when his team is the most desperate, that separates him from Crosby at the moment. He simply understands the crucible of a tight game more than his contemporary at this point in their careers, and that makes him a more valuable player to his team.

Again, this is not to say Crosby is an inferior player. In fact, before Ovie is knighted let's not forget his countryman and the game's third star, Simeon Varlamov.

Sprawling, diving, his glove hand pawing instantly at a puck that should have beaten him, Gabby's golden child turned away 33 of the Pens' first 35 shots. The kid kept them in it so Ovie could win it.

Varlamov has won five straight games and six of eight since Bruce Boudreau had the intuition and smarts to insert him for José Theodore after Game 1 of the Rangers series, a decision that should lead to his first book -- a tale of heart, wit and the unbreakable bond between man and his trusted, loyal companion: "Varly and Me."

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