This story originally appeared on VICE Sports Canada.
The Pittsburgh Penguins beat the Washington Capitals 4-2 in overtime Tuesday night to win the second-round series in six games. Penguins fans need no silver lining and this will probably serve as little comfort for Capitals fans that are prone on their living room floor, moaning in agony while their children watch in confused horror, but there is good news to come out of all this.
We never, ever have to hear about a head-to-head series offering any sort of insight about who is a winner and who is a loser between Alex Ovechkin or Sidney Crosby ever again.
Or Ryan Getzlaf vs. Anze Kopitar.
Or David Backes vs. Jonathan Toews.
Or Joe Thornton vs. Ryan Johansen.
Or literally anyone vs. literally anyone else for as long as we remain breathing on our rapidly heating planet that will slowly drown us all.
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Sidney Crosby did not beat Alex Ovechkin in the postseason.
Hockey players are not basketball players, who have much more of a say over the outcome of a game as individuals, nor are they quarterbacks, who have as close to an ultimate say over wins in losses in team sports as anyone.
Crosby and Ovechkin are two of the best hockey players in the world but are just one of 20 players on their respective game-night rosters and one of six players on the ice for their team at a given moment and they play at most one third of a game. How we have reached a point in professional hockey analysis in 2016 that we are routinely boiling down the reasoning behind a team's wins and losses to just one player and attributing things like "winner" and "loser" based on all that happens in a sport where luck plays a staggeringly huge factor in games is beyond me.
For as long as the NHL has existed, players, coaches and general managers have spoken ad nauseam about the team-centric nature of hockey. Every cliché is born out of something true, and players saying, "I couldn't have done it without my teammates," as vomit-inducing as it is it can be in certain situations, we have volumes of evidence supporting that statement, especially in the playoffs.
"Depth" is almost always the first thing cited when explaining why a team won a Stanley Cup. From top to bottom, championship clubs always have either that fourth line or that third line or that bottom-pairing defense group that would be top-four on another team or, in the case of the Chicago Blackhawks last season, a backup goaltender that wins a round while your starter works through a sloppy stretch.
Yet everyone can't wait to saddle some players, like Toews, with some sort of mythical power to create wins from sheer will and other players, like Thornton, as some sort of professional sports version of a cursed man doomed to bring a plague wherever he goes.
Consider every playoff failure the Penguins have had since winning the Cup in 2009. Save for 2011 when they were bounced in the first round with Crosby and Evgeni Malkin out with injury, an embarrassing lack of depth was the top reason for their ouster. In the postseason, when stars generally cancel each other out, the Penguins had a very weak supporting cast.
In this year's matchup between the Penguins and Capitals:
- Ovechkin had two goals and five assists in six games
- Crosby had zero goals and two assists
Wait. Hang on. Let me rub my eyes like I'm a cartoon child on Christmas morning looking at a bubble hockey table next to my tree.
You're telling me Crosby had two points and zero goals while Ovechkin was better than a point-per-game player but Crosby's team beat Ovechkin's team? How is this possible? I was taught superstar hockey players decide everything in the playoffs. Were Crosby's two points super-inspiring, leadership-laden, grit assists (gritssists™) that lifted his team while Ovechkin had all empty-net points in mop-up time that somehow prevented winning?
No, you idiot.
Hell, Ovechkin came pretty close to winning Game 5 on his own.
So why? Why do these individual showings go against all I have ever heard about these two players since they faced off in the 2009 playoffs and the Capitals failed to reach a single conference finals with Ovechkin on the roster?
Because all this bullshit you hear all the time about the winning/losing innate characteristics of individual players is just that—bullshit.
While Ovechkin was piling up points, Justin Williams didn't make an appearance in the series until the elimination games; Evgeny Kuznetsov had one point in six games; Brooks Orpik was Brooks Orpik; Braden Holtby had two or three subpar games, depending on how much you want to blame him for Game 6; Mike Richards didn't have a point the entire postseason; Andre Burakovsky may have retired at some point during the second round and Tom Wilson is one of the more useless first-round picks in recent draft history.
What did the Penguins get while Crosby wasn't getting on the scoresheet? Phil Kessel, the American version of Ovechkin in terms of being unfairly labeled, scored twice in Game 6 and had five points in the series and suddenly knows how to win; Carl Hagelin had three goals and the primary assist on the Game 6 overtime winner; Eric Fehr haunted his old team with the winner in Game 2; when Kris Letang was suspended for Game 4, Trevor Daley played the game of his life and Patric Hornqvist and Nick Bonino scored OT winners.
Matt Murray, who I doubt any of us could pick out of a police lineup before the playoffs, outplayed the likely 2016 Vezina Trophy winner.
But hey, if you want to make these six games a new referendum on intangibles between two of the best players on the planet and attach subjective, incorrect characteristics based on body language or how much enthusiasm either shows in postgame press conferences, knock yourself out.
For the rest of us, let this be the series that put an end to idiotic head-to-head comparisons in a team-driven, luck-aided sport.