TORONTO -- Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin were born into a rivalry 11 years ago which doesn't really befit the sport they play.
Hockey is more about team than any other sport. They are both the first to tell you that.
They both constantly downplay their individual comparisons. They long ago tired of the narrative. Frankly, so have many of us.
But it is on nights like these when the comparison is dragged back out because you have no choice.
It is on nights like these, fair or not, that superstar players either add to their mystique or ... the complete opposite.
And on this World Cup of Hockey semifinal night, No. 87 rose above everyone else yet again, while No. 8 struggled mightily.
"It's like the five-tool guy vs. the home-run hitter: The five-tool guy finds more ways to win all the time," said a Western Conference head coach not involved in the tourney, via text message after Canada's 5-3 semifinal win Saturday.
"Full-court player vs. half-court player," added an Eastern Conference GM not involved in the World Cup, via text message during the third period.
World juniors, NHL playoffs, men's world championships, Olympics and now World Cup: Crosby owns Ovechkin by any definition.
No question, if you had Crosby and Ovechkin swap uniforms Saturday night, Ovechkin might have had a better chance of scoring with Team Canada boasting a deeper squad.
But the point is, it's Crosby who led the way, it's Crosby with the superb takeaway on the opening goal, it's Crosby who set up Brad Marchand just 1:12 after Russia had taken a stunning 2-1 lead in the second period.
It's Crosby, always Crosby, in the big moment, the bigger the stage.
"He's able to impose his will or change the game at any time," said Team Canada defenseman Shea Weber, playing in his third best-on-best tourney with Crosby. "He's one of those guys that's got the ability to switch momentum."
The great ones always seem to have perfect timing.
"I think that's one thing that makes him such a good player, is his determination, and he always comes up big in the big games," linemate Brad Marchand said. "You see plays like that, that's where the leadership comes in. And when you're able to lead at this level, of a group of leaders, then you're able to take control. That just shows how special of a player he is, and he created that whole goal, and ultimately, that did lead to turning the game around."
It's as if Crosby never stopped playing in the Stanley Cup playoffs, his short summer after winning his second NHL championship perhaps helping him find that top-level stride here in a September tournament.
"I think definitely playing later into the year and playing in those type of games helped to kind of transition to these type of games," Crosby said. "One game, anything can happen -- the intensity, the emotion -- everything's so high. So, I think that that definitely helps."
The Canadian captain tallied a goal and two assists in 16:43 of ice time, while Ovechkin was limited to one shot on goal in 20:29 of ice time.
Different players with different talents playing different positions. Still, the discrepancy on this night between both superstars was staggering.
"I tried to do my best, obviously," Ovechkin said afterward. "Sometimes it doesn't matter if you score goals or not. You just have to you play hard, and I tried to play my hardest. Everybody was on the same page, playing the same system."
Credit to Ovechkin, who always faces the music after these tough losses -- just like he did after his Washington Capitals were eliminated by the Pittsburgh Penguins just a few months ago. The pose is all too familiar: the gray specks of hair, the stare into emptiness, the look of a defeated man.
Don't ever confuse Ovechkin's desire. He wants to win so badly. But it just hasn't happened for him at the Olympics or the World Cup and certainly not in the NHL. Ovechkin's downfall on this night had nothing to do with Crosby but rather with the matchups that Team Canada head coach Mike Babcock lined up for the Russian winger: Jonathan Toews' line paired with the blue-line combo of Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Weber.
Just like in the Vancouver 2010 Olympic quarterfinal game, Ovechkin got a healthy dose of the Man Mountain, Weber, and it didn't go well for him.
"Ovie's a big big man and can wear you down. Web doesn't get worn down; he's too big," Babcock said in explaining the matchup. "I thought it was a good stable pair and a good group."
Weber, who easily played his best game of the World Cup, takes pride in that kind of difficult challenge.
"Yeah, obviously he's a guy that can score at will," Weber said of Ovechkin. "He scores 50 goals a year in the NHL. He's a dangerous player. Any chance you get to play against a guy like that and shut him down, yeah, you take pride in that side of the game."
Years from now, though, fewer will remember the job Toews or Weber did on Ovechkin. They likely will remember it as another big game in which Crosby got the better of Ovechkin.
Like it or not, that's the story which doesn't seem to ever change.