So far, the 2011 Stanley Cup Playoffs have been darn close to perfect.
In round one, four Game 7’s were needed to determine a series victor. There have been nine consecutive nights with overtime playoff hockey.
And yet, something is missing.
With the NFL’s popularity waning and an NBA lockout looming ahead, this is a huge chance for the NHL to pick up steam. But without its poster boy, that’s not going to happen.
Sidney Crosby is sorely missed.
And not just be Versus, which has put out night after night of good broadcasts, but by the game itself.
Alex Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals stand a very good chance of beating the Tampa Bay Lightning in the Conference Semi-finals, but even if Ovechkin leads the Caps to the Cup this year, it will be tainted.
Ovie had clearly taken a back seat to Crosby, and without going through Sid’s Penguins, “The Great 8” will not have overcome his greatest nemesis. It will be like the asterisk that now is attached to the steroid-infused Boston Red Sox 2004 World Champion club. It’s not AO’s fault, but most experts would agree that if Crosby and Evgeni Malkin were participating in these playoffs, Pittsburgh would never have loss to Tampa Bay and would be considered the favorite to come out of the Eastern Conference.
Crosby had clearly surpassed Ovechkin coming into the season – with an Olympic Gold medal, a Stanley Cup ring, and another Finals appearance, it wasn’t even debatable anymore. Then, Crosby got off to a jaw-dropping start that saw him post 66 points in 41 games.
Ovechkin’s Capitals beat the Penguins in Sid’s last healthy game of the season, but neither had much impact on the game.
The stage should have been set for a rematch in the Eastern Conference Finals, a chance for Ovie to vault himself back towards Crosby’s level. But No. 87 never arrived to save Pittsburgh in the Quarterfinals and so Ovechkin will miss his chance.
Ovechkin and the Capitals certainly have the most personal rivalry with Crosby and the Penguins, but anyone that wins the Cup this year will have also done so without facing the league’s best player, and perhaps its best team.
Like the 1994 NBA Playoffs without Michael Jordan, Crosby’s absence for the Penguins must be noted in the annals of hockey history. It’s his time at the throne and anybody so lucky to win a title in the King’s absence should thank the Hockey Gods for showing mercy.