The NHL's two brightest young stars entered the league at the start of the 2005-06 season. Russian scoring wizard Alexander Ovechkin was drafted first overall by the Capitals in 2004. Canadian junior phenom Sidney Crosby rode in on a wave of hype as the next Gretzky as the first overall pick by the Penguins in 2005.
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The friendly rivalry began at the 2005 World Junior Championships in Grand Forks, N.D. Crosby and Team Canada routed Russia and Ovechkin, 6-1, in the gold medal game.
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In their first NHL meeting, in Pittsburgh on Nov. 22, 2005, the Penguins established a dominance that would see them win 11 of the teams' next 15 regular season meetings. Crosby netted a goal and assisted on the game-winner as his Penguins tipped the Caps, 5-4. Ovechkin was credited with an assist.
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Ovechkin set a Caps' rookie record by scoring a goal in his seventh consecutive game as Washington knocked off Pittsburgh, 6-3, at home on March 8, 2006. Each youngster also earned an assist.
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Star power: Although Crosby and the Pens won the 2006 season series, 3-1, Ovechkin got the last laugh by winning the Calder Trophy as NHL Rookie of the Year after finishing the season with 52 goals and 106 points to Crosby's 39 and 102.
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Skating on the same team for the first time, Ovechkin scored in the second period, but Crosby was blanked as their Eastern Conference squad fell to the Western Conference, 12-9, at the 2007 NHL All-Star Game in Dallas.
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Crosby and the Penguins clinched a playoff spot with a 4-3 win over the Capitals in the teams' final meeting of the 2006-07 season. Crosby netted a goal and picked up an assist while Ovechkin was held to just one helper.
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The rivalry boiled as the Caps snapped a three-game losing skid with A.O. scoring twice and adding an assist in a 6-3 win over the sagging Penguins in Pittsburgh on Jan. 14, 2009. It was the first meeting of the teams since Caps winger Alex Semin publicly disparaged Sidney Crosby, and Washington added injury to insult while handing the Pens their eighth loss in their last 10 games. Crosby (two assists) left late in the game after a collision with David Steckel (right inset). Ovechkin was expected to renew his physical feud with Evgeni Malkin, but turned his ire on Crosby, as the two exchanged words as the teams skated out to start the third period.
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It got ugly as the Caps ran their season mark vs. the Pens to 3-0 with a 5-2 win in Washington on Feb. 22, 2009. The Caps, delighted that the rivalry's tide had turned, gave Crosby an earful and he tussled with A.O. in the second period and had to be restrained. ''What I can say about him?'' said, Ovechkin, who opened scoring with his 43rd goal of the season. ''He is a good player, but he talks too much. I play hard. If he wants to do something like hit me again, try to hit me again -- and I'll talk to you guys (about) who plays dirty. That's my game. It's not cheap shots, it's a game moment. But he doesn't like it, it's his problem.'' Crosby, who had an assist, took exception to A.O.'s flamboyance: ''Like it or lump it, that's what he does. Some people like it, some people don't. Personally, I don't like it.''
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Sparked by new coach Dan Bylsma, the Penguins capped their first-ever 5-0 road trip by edging the Capitals 4-3 in a shootout on March 8, 2009. Ovechkin scored his 47th goal, but Crosby got the final word in a payback for his team's heated loss on Feb. 22. He had a goal and assist, and connected on the shootout's only successful attempt as the Pens avoided being swept in the season series. Naturally, talk turned to a playoff meeting. ''I'm sure it would be pretty intense, pretty emotional,'' said Crosby, who was treated to nasty signs and jeers from the fans in Washington.
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Their much-anticipated playoff showdown in the Eastern Conference semifinals opened May 2, 2009 in Washington with Crosby and Ovechkin trading goals. But it was Simeon Varlamov, the Capitals' rookie goalie, who stole the show and the win. Varlamov made 34 saves, including a dazzling diving desperation stop on Crosby that preserved a 2-2 tie late in the second period. Tomas Fleischmann scored with 18:14 to go in the third to give the Capitals a 3-2 win.
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The superstars swapped hat tricks in Game 2, but Ovechkin's pair less than three minutes apart in the third period gave the Capitals a 4-3 win and 2-0 series edge. "Sick game. Sick three goals by me and Crosby,'' Ovechkin said. ''It's unbelievable to see how fans react, how fans go crazy. The atmosphere right now, it's unbelievable in town. You see all the red, and -- probably I'm afraid to go home right now.''
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After holding Ovechkin to one goal while squaring the series in Pittsburgh, the Penguins stunned the Caps, 4-3, in Game 5 in Washington when Malkin's power-play pass to Crosby was broken up by sliding defenseman Tom Poti only to have the puck get past Varlamov at 3:28 of OT. The Pens had rallied from a 2-1 deficit after two periods and withstood Ovechkin's two goals, including his tying tally with less than five minutes to go in regulation. "These games come down to mistakes and bounces,'' Crosby said. ''And we got a good bounce there on the last goal.''
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Vowing there would be a Game 7, Ovechkin made good on his promise with three assists as the Capitals went into Pittsburgh and came away with a gritty 5-4 win in OT. Losers of their last seven OT games, the Caps' couldn't hold their 4-3 lead when Crosby scored late in the third period. But David Steckel came to the rescue when he went to the net after winning a faceoff and tipped a shot by Brooks Laich past Marc-Andre Fleury 6:22 into OT. ''I think it's going to be great game,'' Ovechkin said. ''I think the league wants us to play Game 7.''
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Alex Ovechkin scored a goal, but Sidney Crosby had two goals and an assist to lead the Penguins to a 6-2 thrashing of the Capitals in Game 7.
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The rivals had a highly-anticipated quarterfinal match at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver that was deflated by Team Canada's 7-3 rout of Ovechkin's vaunted Russian squad. Ovechkin was kept off the scoresheet and Crosby went on to score the gold-medal-winning goal vs. Team USA.
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In their final meeting of the 2009-10 season, one week before the playoffs began, Ovechkin scored twice as the Presidents' Trophy-winning Capitals stayed unbeaten (4-0) against the Penguins in the season, winning 6-3. Crosby had a goal and two assists in the loss.
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Crosby and the Pens used their first game of the 2010-11 season against the Caps on Dec. 23 to set some high expectations for the Winter Classic scheduled at Heinz Field on New Year's Day. Crosby extended his points streak to 23 games with a goal and an assist, and Pascal Dupuis scored the decisive goal in the seventh round of a shootout (inset) to give the Penguins a 3-2 victory. Ovechkin was held pointless.
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Neither Ovechkin nor Crosby scored in the Winter Classic, so their biggest highlight may have been the ceremonial puck drop with Mario Lemieux, Jerome Bettis and Franco Harris on the red carpet. Ovechkin's Caps got the better of Crosby's Pens thanks to unheralded Eric Fehr, who scored twice in a 3-1 win.
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