As newly retired legend Mario Lemieux looked on, the National Hockey League's most thrilling young hot shots battled for bragging rights, points and badly needed victories for their struggling teams.
Afterward, though one played much better than the other, the future superstars traded signed sticks for their memento collections.
Sidney Crosby, the Pittsburgh Penguins' rookie centre and supremely gifted playmaker, and Alexander Ovechkin, the Washington Capitals' left winger and hard-charging sniper, met for the second time this season, before a crowd of 14,415 at Mellon Arena.
Though Ovechkin was spectacular at moments, Crosby had four points -- one goal and three assists -- to Ovechkin's lone goal, and the Penguins dominated to win 8-1 and snap a 10-game losing string.
It was the first four-point game of Crosby's NHL career. Ovechkin had a frightening moment when he was speared by Penguins defender Ryan Whitney and had to be helped off the ice at the end of the second period. He returned for the third period and appeared no worse for taking a stick between his legs.
Ovechkin declined to speak to reporters after the game. Crosby played down how much facing the Russian motivated him on a night that elevated his scoring totals to 24 goals and 34 assists, for 57 points in 50 games. Ovechkin has 34 goals and 29 assists, for 63 points in 48 games.
"I don't think it had anything to do with it," Crosby said. "What happened is finally all our hard work paid off. When everyone chips in, this is what happens."
Both players hit the ice fired up. For two teams mired at the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings, this was a highly entertaining game.
The entertainment was owed largely to the excitement brought by Crosby and Ovechkin.
The Russian hit the statistics sheet first, scoring his 34th goal of the season, on a power play at 5:22 of the second period, and tying the score 1-1. It was a beauty; he missed a close rebound, scooped up the puck and drifted back up near the top of the faceoff circle, repositioned and fired, catching Marc-André Fleury off guard.
Then the Maritimer, working on a power play and above the circle, staged a wonderful fake slap shot and slid the puck over to Mark Recchi, who flipped it past Olaf Kolzig to make the score 2-1 at 8:33. The playmaker struck again at 15:19, also on a power play and also with Recchi. His final assist came in the third period on a goal by Tomas Survoy.
Crosby's goal came when he skated around the back of the net and out in front, moving the puck between defenceman Bryan Muir's skates and stuffing it past Kolzig.
Before the game, the scoreboard alternated highlights of the pair. There was Ovechkin bulling his way through defenders like a freight train and scoring goals on his back. There was Crosby jitterbugging and faking and beating goaltenders with his incredible backhand.
Ovechkin, the 20-year-old Russian who was the No. 1 selection in the 2004 NHL draft, had the start of his career delayed by the lockout. Crosby, the Nova Scotian and No. 1 pick in the 2005 draft, arrived under crushing scrutiny and expectation.
The two are unarguably the leading candidates for the Calder Trophy. Both are in the NHL's top 10 in scoring. Both are the best players on their underachieving teams.
Crosby got off to a faster points start and won rookie-of-the-month honours in October; Ovechkin grabbed the nod in December. Some believe Ovechkin is running away with the rookie race, but he will be playing on the Russian Olympic team in February, while Crosby will enjoy a rest and have a chance to recharge for the final stretch.
Crosby said earlier yesterday that watching his rival perform with such skill pushes him to be better.
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