SUNRISE, Fla. (AP)Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin have played dozens of regular-season and playoff games against each other since breaking into the NHL together in 2005.
The longtime rivals and respective captains of the Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals have also shared the ice at All-Star Games before. But with each superstar in his mid-30s, they know this trip could be their last together.
They took advantage of it, with Ovechkin setting up Crosby for two goals Saturday in the lone game of the All-Star 3-on-3 tournament their Metropolitan Division team got to play.
”I think we have fun to play together, not against each other,” Ovechkin said, flashing his gap-toothed smile. ”Right now, we was on the same team, and it was pretty special, pretty good moment.”
Crosby, who also had the secondary assist on Ovechkin’s goal, did not expect to get the puck back. That’s not unreasonable given Ovechkin has built a career on scoring and is only 82 goals back of Wayne Gretzky’s NHL career record.
”I was thinking I just did my job: gave it to him,” said Crosby, whose career numbers are so close to Ovechkin’s that he has just five more points overall. ”I thought he was just going finish it, but he was kind enough to send me a couple back. We had some nice goals there.”
Not enough to win the 3-on-3 semifinal against the Atlantic, which beat the Central in the final. Ovechkin lamented not scoring more and took some jabs at his goalie teammates for a day: fellow Russians Igor Shesterkin of the New York Rangers and Ilya Sorokin of the Islanders.
”Obviously goalie could play better,” Ovechkin said.
Crosby and Ovechkin being together at All-Star weekend for the first time since 2018 was one of the themes of the weekend, given how they shared the stage as faces of the NHL for much of their careers. But they don’t want this to be a Sid and Ovi swan song and could do this again as soon as next year when the festivities are in Toronto.
”You try to go out there have fun and stay in the moment,” Crosby said. ”Hopefully, it’s not our last one. That’s the best way to approach it.”
The introductions for Aleksander Barkov and Matthew Tkachuk were saved for last.
And of course, the two Florida Panthers stars, representing the Atlantic Division, delivered in their home arena.
”We play regular-season and playoff games here, but with this event, it’s even more special to be here representing the Florida Panthers,” Barkov said.
Tkachuk was clearly comfortable playing in the same arena where has amassed 66 points (sixth in the NHL) this season with the Panthers. He was named All-Star MVP after his seven points (four goals, three assists) Saturday, including a goal and an assist in the Atlantic Division’s 7-5 win over the Central Division to take the All-Star game title.
”To be honest, I really didn’t care about anything other than just representing my team,” Tkachuk said, ”and it’s a big honor to be one of the representatives, along with Barky, to be the host city. Without everybody saying it, it kind of revolves around us a little bit with having the home crowd on our side and doing the big skills and starting the game having the fans basically just cheering for us.”
Tkachuk had a hat trick and a pair of assists in the Atlantic squad’s semifinal game against the Metropolitan division – tying a single-game points record for the 3-on-3 All-Star format. Two of those goals were assisted by his Panthers teammate to give their squad a win 10-6 and advance to face the Central division the final.
By the time Barkov and Tkachuk came out for the All-Star game final, ”Let’s go Panthers!” cheers were being belted throughout FLA Live Arena.
Barkov, the beloved Panther in his 10th season, has 14 goals this year and 33 assists. He has 234 career goals and 600 points.
Brothers Matthew Tkachuk and Brady Tkachuk have played against each other plenty over the years. But with both players starting for the Atlantic division, they got to experience playing together as the 11th set of brothers to be All-Star teammates.
The brothers each had a goal in Saturday’s semifinal game between the Atlantic and Metropolitan divisions. And Brady assisted on his brother’s goal in the final against the Central division.
”We’ve always dreamt of playing with each other one way or the other,” Matthew Tkachuk said. ”We thought that the best chance would be a Team USA thing at one point because I was in the West forever and he was in the Atlantic, so we never really thought this was a possibility.”
Matthew, drafted in 2016 by the Calgary Flames, is a two-time All-Star with 177 career goals and 448 points.
Brady, the younger Tkachuk sibling, was drafted in 2018 by the Ottawa Senators and has 110 career goals and 243 points.
Both were All-Stars back in 2020 in their hometown St. Louis. Brady represented the Atlantic division, while Matthew represented the Pacific squad.
It was 72 degrees Fahrenheit (22 Celsius) outside FLA Live Arena when the All-Star 3 on-3 tournament started – more than 50 degrees warmer than 2024 host Toronto. That doesn’t mean this year’s event didn’t have a weather issue.
The NHL All-Star Beach Festival – which had areas where fans could test their hockey skills, get a photo with the Stanley Cup and check out a Hockey Hall of Fame exhibit, among other things – couldn’t open on Saturday.
Rain in the morning delayed the opening on Fort Lauderdale Beach, and then 40 mph (64 kilometers per hour) wind gusts later in the day forced the NHL into keeping it closed and calling off a watch party for the All-Star Game.
It was open Thursday and Friday.
AP Sports Writer Tim Reynolds contributed to this report.
Follow AP Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SWhyno
AP NHL: https://apnews.com/hub/nhl and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports