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Latest Crosby, Ovechkin showdown massive in playoff race

Sidney Crosby Pittsburgh Penguins Alex Ovechkin Washington Capitals Sidney Crosby Alex Ovechkin - The Canadian Press

Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin will continue their 19-year rivalry on Thursday as the Pittsburgh Penguins visit the Washington Capitals in a game that could prove crucial in the playoff race.

Winless in their past three games, the Capitals have stalled in the final wild-card spot and kept the door open for a group of teams, including the Penguins, to stay in the race. Pittsburgh enters Thursday's meeting three points back of Washington with one more game played.

A loss Thursday would deal a major blow to the Penguins' playoff hopes, and would also vault the Capitals into third place in the Metropolitan Division, one point ahead of Philadelphia Flyers with a game still in hand.

“It’s going to be two desperate hockey teams that, I’m sure the way they’re building it up now with where everybody sits, these are sort of Game 7-type of games,” Capitals head coach Spencer Carbery told on Wednesday. “Season’s on the line and one, two points either way could determine whether teams are playing past the regular season.”

Despite trading star winger Jake Guentzel at the trade deadline, the Penguins have stayed in the playoff race with a 4-0-2 record in their past six games. 

Crosby has led the charge with six goals and 15 points over that stretch. The 36-year-old has 39 goals and 84 points in 75 games this season and has a 25-point lead over Evgeni Malkin for the most on the Penguins this season.

After a slow start to the year, Ovechkin has rounded into form since the end of January, posting 17 goals and 27 points in his 27 past games after starting the year with just nine goals and 31 points in 44 games.

While the Crosby and Ovechkin rivalry has headlined four previous playoff series between the two teams, Thursday's meeting could go a long way in deciding who makes the postseason this year. 

“If one is out on the West Coast and one on the East Coast, I’m not sure it has the same feel that ‘O’ and ‘Sid’ have of when they came into the league and these teams and how much history we have, battles every year being in the same division, but then also into the playoffs,” Carbery said. “It’s been impressive to watch from afar and now being involved in, you can feel there’s a little bit more added to each game when Pens, Caps suit up.”

The Capitals will get a boost Thursday as all-star winger Tom Wilson returns after serving a six-game suspension for high-sticking. The 30-year-old forward has 17 goals and 32 points in 66 games this season.

“The last decade or so it’s just been, you know, it’s going to be a big game no matter what time of year and no matter what’s the standings are,” Wilson said of Thursday's matchup. “It’s two teams that are always competing to be good and always competing against each other for spots, so it’s no different right now.”

The Capitals have a 2-1 edge in the season series with the Penguins so far, including a dominant 6-0 win on March 7.