WASHINGTON -- They stood at centre ice, two stars spent from a seven-game battle, and extended a firm hand shake and lingering lock of the eyes.
Alex Ovechkin said "good luck." Sidney Crosby said "great series."
It was an economy of words but what more was needed after a sensational series by both had finally come to a verdict.
Crosby's Pittsburgh Penguins took the sizzle out of Ovechkin's Capitals in what was supposed to be a game for the ages last night at the Verizon Center, unleashing a surprisingly easy 6-2 thumping as the knockout blow.
In the end, the better, deeper team won and captain Crosby will take his Penguins to the Eastern Conference final for the second consecutive spring following a 4-3 series win.
But the lasting images won't be of the blowout conclusion, rather the show that Crosby and Ovechkin delivered with such verve over the previous 12 days.
"A lot of eyes were on this series, we both wanted to make sure we did a good job," Crosby said after a two-goal, one-assist performance to punctuate both his team and individual accomplishment. "He's a great player with a scary shot. Even with the lead we had, we weren't relaxed for a second out there."
While Ovechkin is going home and Crosby to a conference final against the winner of the Boston Bruins-Carolina Hurricanes Game 7 tonight, this morning they sit together atop the NHL playoff scoring race with 21 points.
Ovechkin had 14 points in this series alone, Crosby had 13. Ovechkin had spectacular goals, Crosby scored when they mattered most, such as the clever skate to stick move he pulled off to open the scoring on a power play goal 12:36 into last night's contest.
"It's done, it's a good experience for us, but we are disappointed," Ovechkin said in a crammed corner of the quiet Capitals dressing room. "We are a pretty good team and we wanted to move forward."
There had been whispers Ovechkin had been playing hurt through the series, though he certainly didn't show it, piling up 14 points in seven games. Caps coach Bruce Boudreau confirmed that fact last night, though wouldn't offer details because he didn't want to be seen as making excuses.
"His play is what it was, magnificent," Boudreau said. "If this were the regular season, he wouldn't be playing."
It was a matchup that had delivered so much drama, it was hard not to expect a more thrilling conclusion.
Three overtimes. Five games decided by one goal. And prior to last night, 92% of the time played with the teams either tied or within a goal of each other.
Instead, it was as if all of the Capitals organs gave way at once, the energy sucked out of a team that had been such a willing and able opponent through most of the memorable series.
That ended quickly thanks to an eight-second, two-goal Penguins outburst in the game's 13th minute. On the heels of Crosby's goal, Craig Adams beat Washington goaltender Simeon Varlamov with a weak shot, the portent of more misery to come.
When Pittsburgh scored twice more before the second period was three minutes old you could have pulled the plug on this one.
"We were nowhere to be found," Capitals defenceman Brian Pothier said. "We didn't have the legs. We weren't prepared for what they were going to bring."
So in the end, consistency won out. The Penguins, after all, had outshot the Capitals in each of the seven games yet had been unable to put together a convincing win.
And in the end, it was the old-school work of Crosby that trumped the showmanship of Ovechkin.
"He's our captain, he's our leader," Pittsburgh goalie Marc-Andre Fleury said of Crosby. "He was like that the whole season. Guys on our team see him flying around the ice and giving it all he's got on every shift.
He's a great example for us to follow."