They are hometown buddies, offseason workout partners and Stanley Cup winners, and they were fellow All-Stars this past weekend.
But on Tuesday night, Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby and Colorado’s Nathan MacKinnon will be opponents when the Avalanche visit the Penguins. The two centers and established stars will square off with their teams needing to have a strong stretch run after the All-Star break.
“I’m excited to get back at it,” Crosby said. “It’s a big stretch run for a lot of teams, including us, and I’m excited for it.”
Crosby, 35, has won three Cups. MacKinnon is eight years younger and collected his first Cup win last spring. Both grew up in Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia.
MacKinnon was a kid in the crowd at Crosby’s first Cup parade in 2009 and later was a guest at Crosby’s celebration after Pittsburgh won in 2016 and 2017. Crosby helped MacKinnon celebrate the Avs’ title last season.
“It’s fun that they’re pretty much from the same city — two greats of hockey from the same spot,” said Colorado winger Mikko Rantanen, who also was an All-Star this past weekend.
Rantanen along with Crosby and MacKinnon, teamed in a Splash Shot skills contest and got to drop Crosby into a dunk tank on a beach in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
“He’s a pretty famous guy, but he is just my friend, just a good person to be around, a fun guy to be around,” MacKinnon said of Crosby.
On Tuesday, they will be at cross purposes, trying to claw past one another to help their clubs.
Despite being the defending champions, the Avalanche are in a struggle to make the playoffs. The same goes for the Penguins, who are trying to extend their streak of making it to the postseason to a 17th straight year.
Both teams are hanging around the wild-card spots in their respective conferences.
Colorado was heating up before the All-Star break, winning seven of eight after sludging through a stretch of losing seven of eight. The more recent stretch of success includes a 4-2 win over the St. Louis Blues on Jan. 28.
“It was a big divisional win for us heading into the break,” Avalanche forward Alex Newhook said.
Pittsburgh lost two in a row and three of four heading into the break, including 6-4 to the San Jose Sharks on Jan. 28. The Penguins hope their time away from the game will help.
“Sometimes when you are caught in the grind of the season, you don’t feel it as much, how worn down you get, but to get a full break, to get away from it and just think about things other than hockey, sometimes it’s good for the mind, good for the body,” Pittsburgh defenseman Kris Letang said.
“Now in the upcoming weeks, we’ll see who wants to win and who wants to go far.”
Pittsburgh could be without No. 1 goaltender Tristan Jarry, who is day-to-day because of an undisclosed injury.
Colorado is expected to get defenseman Bowen Byram back after he missed three months because of a lower-body injury.
“He’s ready to go,” Avalanche coach Jared Bednar said of Byram. “He was probably knocking at the door before the break. We just felt like rushing him back to play one game before the break wasn’t the best idea considering how long he’s been out.”
–Field Level Media