WASHINGTON -- There are only a handful of NHL players who can claim to have played with both Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin, the two biggest stars of their generation. Washington Capitals defenseman Brooks Orpik is perhaps the most prominent one, having played with Crosby on the Pittsburgh Penguins from 2005 to 2014 before suiting up as Ovechkin's teammate the past four seasons.
So it's natural that Orpik is asked about them, as he was on the eve of Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final during an off-day news conference. It's also natural that he'd answer with a terse "I don't know" when asked to elaborate on the differences between Crosby and Ovechkin, because he finds the whole thing a bit forced 13 years after the two superstars entered the league.
"Sid's not playing in the series. I'm not trying to avoid it, but I don't know what people want me to say. I'm friends with both guys. I've learned a lot from both guys. I don't know what else to say," Orpik said after the morning skate ahead of Game 4 on Monday.
"People want to force the comparison. They're both huge names in the league ... I don't know, maybe somebody has a better answer than I do, but there's not a lot of similarities between the two guys, either personality-wise or play-wise. I don't know ... they're super competitive guys. But the route that they get there is completely different."
The rivalry between Crosby and Ovechkin has been played out in the NHL since their rookie seasons in 2005-06. They've met in the playoffs four times; and internationally when Canada and Russia have competed for Olympic gold. Crosby has had the better of that rivalry -- three Stanley Cup championships and two gold medals -- until this postseason, when Ovechkin led the Capitals to only their second series win against Pittsburgh in franchise history.
That Orpik is still getting Crosby vs. Ovechkin questions with the Capitals two wins away from the Stanley Cup has the veteran defenseman a little baffled.
"It's kind of like in the beginning, when they were in the Southeast and we were in the [Atlantic]. NBC tried to force that rivalry, and we weren't even in the same division, we hadn't even played each other in the playoffs. I just thought it was so forced," he said.
But when pressed to discuss the comparison, Orpik relented, saying that Ovechkin vs. Crosby is almost impossible to analyze because of the singular nature of Ovechkin's talent.
"There are so many good players in the league you can find comparables to. Ovie is different than everybody in the league. I could find a lot of guys that are more similar to Sid. Ovie is one of a kind," said Orpik.
What makes Ovechkin unique?
"I wish I could say he doesn't care about what people think about him, but I know he does. He's just not as worried about the perception. He just is who he is. He doesn't try to hide it. He just does what he does. And it's obviously worked for him," said Orpik.
The bruising defenseman won his only Stanley Cup with Crosby in 2009. Nine years later, his second Cup, this time with Ovechkin, is in reach.
"You're two wins away from accomplishing what you want to accomplish, so you try not to look too far ahead. We've been down in series and come back in [three] of those, so we know being up in a series doesn't guarantee you anything. That's been our approach the whole postseason is just really playing each game and then turning the page pretty quickly whether it's a win or loss, and I think we've done a really good job of that," he said.