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Alex Ovechkin: Fighting to keep up with Sidney Crosby

Ovi1.jpgChicago Blackhawks vs. Washington Capitals 12:30 p.m. EST - Sunday, March 14, 2010 Live on NBC

It seems that it is rare to find a hockey fan that likes both Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin. It’s Team Sid vs. Team Ovi and the battle can get a bit bloody at times, as fans spew forth hate and discontent towards the other camp.

It’s all part of the natural rivalry that has developed between the two, as they jockey for position in the race to the be the NHL’s best player and it’s still debatable who is in the lead. Is it Ovechkin, he of multiple scoring titles and highlight-reel goals, who leads the most exciting team in the NHL in front of the best home crowd the league has to offer? Or is it Crosby, who has now won a Stanley Cup and an Olympic gold medal and who currently leads the NHL in scoring?

It always seemed that Ovechkin was in the lead in this race over the years, but he’s fallen behind. The world has embraced Sid the Kid and now Ovechkin must catch up. With the Capitals facing a potential Stanley Cup finals opponent this afternoon we have to ask: is this year his best shot at doing so?

The 2010 Capitals are the best chance Ovechkin might have.

It’s been a slow build for the Capitals to get to where they are now, and there’s no doubt they are they best they’ve been since Ovechkin joined the team. But great teams like this don’t come along every year, and they’ll need to take advantage of the shots they have. Last year the Capitals had a great team, yet were stunned by the Pittsburgh Penguins in the semifinals. I’m sure that did nothing but add more fuel to the fire that rages inside Ovechkin, and watching Crosby hoist the cup a few weeks later - if he even watched it - had to be painful.

I picture Ovechkin alone in a dark room, watching Game 7 in front of a flickering television, vowing revenge on his nemesis while crushing something metallic between his hands.

“I vill destroy zat Crozzbee. I vill vin zee Stanley Cup!”

How much does the rivalry drive Ovechkin?

One thing you have to love about Ovechkin is his intense approach to every game. Some people call it reckless, while I call it a will to win. He never takes a game off and every shift you know he’s on the ice. Sure, he may not be the most responsible player in his own end but he certainly makes up for it on the scoreboard.

But how much does he think about Crosby each game? Does he watch the scoreboard each night to see what the Penguins have done and does he check to see how many goals Crosby scored? This is the first season that he and Crosby have been in a race down the stretch for the league lead in goals, and it has to frustrate the two-time “Rocket” Richard Trophy winner. He’s been beat out for the Art Ross before by Crosby but the Richard is his. Losing that race to Crosby in a “Year of Losing to Crosby” would be the icing on the cake of frustration.

The good news: The Capitals aren’t just Alex Ovechkin

In the past, Alex Ovechkin has been all the Capitals had. Not so any longer, as the team has been built around him and compliments his skill and production in nearly every way. The Capitals aren’t a freakishly offensive team based on Ovechkin’s goal-scoring alone; there are players all over the roster that can put the puck in the net.

Ovechkin recently suffered through a near-catastrophic six-game scoreless streak, yet somehow the Capitals found a way to win without him. What’s ironic is that in the game he finally scored in - two goals - the Capitals lost.

So perhaps the pressure is off Ovechkin a bit, so that he can go out and be himself on the ice knowing that the team around him is just as capable as he is.

If Ovechkin has any hope of keeping up with Sidney Crosby - and you know he thinks about it - then winning the Stanley Cup this season is all that matters. The scoring title might be a consolation prize, but if Crosby hoists that Cup again this season the then Ovechkin would have fallen a few horse-lengths behind in this quarter mile race.

Join us for a live chat of today’s game at 11:30 a.m. EST, only on Pro Hockey Talk!