Before the Caps-Pens series, NHL.com’s Dan Rosen sat down with Hall of Famer Wayne Gretzky and asked him about the game’s two biggest superstars, Alex Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby. The captains will play against each other in the postseason for the first time since 2009. The Penguins won that series in seven games.
“Both guys love the microscope and love being under pressure, and both guys seem to elevate their game when they play against each other,” Gretzky told NHL.com’s Dan Rosen. “But that’s natural. Everybody has a lot of pride as an athlete and when you’re an elite athlete and you play head to head against a guy who is your peer, there is more of a motivation factor. I anticipate both players raising their game to another level.”
Gretzky also addressed Ovechkin’s legacy. While the Russian machine has managed to win the Richard Trophy six times and be a four-time MVP, Ovechkin has not won the Stanley Cup in his 10-year NHL career, never making it past the second round of the playoffs.
“You know, when I broke into the NHL in 1979, we idolized guys like Jean Beliveau, Bobby Orr, Bobby Clarke, and Guy Lafleur, and that was the slogan, ‘You’re a good player, but you’re not a great player until you win the Stanley Cup,'” Gretzky said. “Now the league was only 21 teams back then, and of course it was at 12 at one point and six at one point, so it’s much more difficult to win the Stanley Cup now, especially in the era of the salary cap. But I really believe that it’s another notch for an athlete if you’re a champion. He’s always going to go down as a great player and a Hall of Famer, there’s no question about that, but it’s an extra notch when you get your name on that Stanley Cup and get to lift it.”
Gretzky and Ovechkin had dinner in Malibu in March. Ovechkin agreed with the sentiment.
“I have everything in my career besides a Stanley Cup and an Olympic gold medal,” Ovechkin said told to SI’s Alex Prewitt. “Nobody remembers who’s second place. Everyone remembers the winner.”
In his talk with NHL.com, Gretzky took time to praise Caps head coach Barry Trotz, who has instituted a system that allows Ovechkin to score (50 goals in 2015-16) and contribute defensively at a high level.
“What Barry has done with Alex, he hasn’t taken anything away from his offensive abilities, but he’s given him a responsibility to be more reliable defensively,” Gretzky said. “The team sees that. Although he’s still going to get his opportunities and chances, his backchecking and defensive zone play has been as good as ever. From a coach’s point of view, it sure makes it easier telling the rest of the guys to cover the third guy high or cover the point guy in your own zone when you see maybe the premier offensive player in the League doing it.”
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