-- LOS ANGELES, Calif. -- Crosby to Ovechkin. Goal. Or try this: Ovechkin to Crosby. Goal.
For many viewing the All-Star Games on Sunday, that will be the enduring image: two of the game's greatest players making plays to each other for the Metropolitan Division.
"It's nice that I don't have to see that combination again," said? Anaheim Ducks defenseman Cam Fowler, whose Pacific Division fell to Sidney Crosby, Alex Ovechkin and the rest of the Metropolitan Division in the final of the 3-on-3 All-Star tournament.
Watching the two greats together was a treat, but it was also a reminder of the fantastical element of the All-Star event.
It's not real.
What is real, given how both Crosby and Ovechkin are playing, is that these two icons might be on a collision course with more meaningful confrontations in the coming weeks and months.
After watching the Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals go back and forth in a compelling, six-game set in the second round of the playoffs last season, after which Pittsburgh went on to win its second Stanley Cup in the Crosby era, there is no reason to think the journey to the Stanley Cup finals won't include a Pens-Caps rematch.
There is always going to be a special intensity between the two teams and, indeed, the two superstars.
"But I think there's mutual respect there, and we both want to win, and we both want to play hard for our team," said Crosby, who swapped autographed sticks with Ovechkin in the Metro Division dressing room after Sunday's win. "That's who we expect when we play each other."
Crosby leads the NHL with 28 goals, and Ovechkin has 23 for the league-leading Capitals. How these two play after the All-Star break is worth keeping an eye on.
Here are a few other All-Stars who will be counted on down the stretch run to keep their teams' playoff and Stanley Cup dreams alive.
Cam Fowler, D, Anaheim Ducks
It has been a renaissance season for Fowler, whose name came up repeatedly in trade scuttlebutt over the past year because of Anaheim's defensive depth. The Ducks might still move a defenseman before the March 1 trade deadline, but don't bet on it being Fowler, who has been key to the Ducks' staying in the hunt in the tightly packed Pacific Division, with 10 goals, three of which have been winners. He noted how the Edmonton Oilers have become challengers and the Vancouver Canucks are hanging around the playoff picture too. "So I think it's great for us," he said. "It keeps us engaged. We need to be ready to play every night and know that we're in for a tough test, especially in division games."
Seguin is eighth in league scoring, but the Stars are a million miles from where they were a year ago, when they came out of the All-Star break sitting in 11th in the Western Conference and needing to jump over three teams to return to the postseason. "We've been talking about it for a while, and we've been waiting to go on a run for a while," Seguin said. "But we've got some time here to do it. Hopefully, everyone got some rest here this weekend and everybody got that little jolt back to go on a run here." Seguin will be counted on to continue to deliver that jolt.
If the Stars are one of the most disappointing teams in the West, their Eastern Conference counterparts would definitely be the defending Atlantic Division-champ Panthers. Trocheck leads the Cats, who are just four points out of a playoff berth, with 34 points. But he admits that they need to keep from allowing frustration to further derail their season. "It's something that the more frustrated you get, the more it spirals downhill," he said. "It's something that we've got to knock out of our heads and maybe use this All-Star break, and we have a bye week too coming up, so maybe use these two times to kind of regroup and kind of clear our head and use it as a fresh start."
The Canucks have defied skeptics who felt they would be a draft-lottery team by hanging around the edge of the playoff picture (they're one point out), and Horvat has been one of the offensive catalysts for the Canucks, with 32 points, tied with veteran captain Henrik Sedin for the team lead. He is pumped for the stretch run and will be counted on to pick up where he left off. "I actually can't wait," he said. "I expect a lot from myself. I think a huge part of me is trying to prove people wrong all the time. I think so far it's been a good year. For the Canucks, the whole team is now impressing a lot of people, and we're doing a lot better than people thought we were going to do, so we've got to keep that going here."
The longtime New York Islanders power forward has not had a seamless transition to his new home after he signed with the Sabres as a free agent last summer. The team has struggled to score, and though he leads the team with 31 points, Okposo admitted that he needs to be doing more. "I think, personally, it's been a little bit of up and down," he said. "A little bit too much up and down." In spite of the uneven play of the team, the Sabres have been better of late and are just seven points out of a playoff spot. Okposo's play after the break could be the difference-maker.