The rivalry between Pittsburgh star Sidney Crosby, left and Capitals sensation Alex Ovechkin has turned acrimonious this season. ((Pablo Martinez/Associated Press))

The National Basketball Association banked most of its resurgence in the 1980s based mostly on three playoff showdowns, along with numerous regular-season battles, between Hall of Famers Larry Bird and Magic Johnson.

The NHL, meanwhile, wants to capitalize on what it hopes will be a long and lucrative post-season rivalry between Pittsburgh star Sidney Crosby and Washington sensation Alex Ovechkin.

As much as legends Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux dominated their era, the two greats never faced each other in the Stanley Cup playoffs.

Fortunately for the NHL, it won't miss out on another golden opportunity.

Thanks to the Capitals' Game 7 victory over the New York Rangers on Tuesday night, the two most recognizable hockey players in the world will square off for their first-ever playoff meeting Saturday afternoon (CBC, CBCSports.ca, 1 p.m. ET) in Washington.

"Welcome to the circus," proclaimed Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau after Washington rallied from a 3-1 series deficit to advance to the second round.

'He talks too much,' Ovechkin says of Crosby

The former No. 1 overall picks — Ovechkin in 2004 and Crosby in 2005 — have been linked together since clashing at the world junior hockey championship.

It didn't take long for their impact on the game to be felt.

Ovechkin beat out his Canadian adversary for the Rookie of the Year Award in 2006, but Crosby countered by claiming the Hart Trophy, which goes to the NHL's MVP, the following year.

Ovechkin, who collected 50 goals in three of his first four years, rebounded to win the Hart in 2008.

Crosby holds an advantage in the head-to-head matchups since joining the NHL, with the Penguins winning 11 of 16 games against Washington when the two superstars have suited up.

Crosby has scored eight goals and 18 assists for 26 points, while Ovechkin has posted 10 goals and 11 assists for 21 points.

However, the Capitals took three of four regular-season contests this year.

The rivalry turned acrimonious during this campaign as Crosby has been less than impressed with Ovechkin's overzealous goal celebrations.

"Like it or lump it, that's what he does," said Crosby. "Some people like it, some people don't. Personally, I don't like it."

The Russian shot back, suggesting Crosby should concern himself with his own performance.

"What can I say about him?" Ovechkin said. "He's a good player, but he talks too much."

'It felt good,' Crosby says of game-tying goal

Regardless, both players have been key contributors for their teams.

Crosby finished the first round ranked second in scoring with four goals and four assists, helping No. 4 Pittsburgh oust the Flyers in six games. Crosby saved his best performance for the clinching match in Philadelphia.

He scored the game-tying goal — batting the puck out of midair — late in the second period, and then secured the victory with an empty-net goal.

"It felt good. It's not easy to play here — it's a tough building, and we've had some huge battles against these guys over the years, so it felt good to put that [empty-netter] in for sure," Crosby told Hockey Night in Canada.

While Ovechkin is tied with teammate Nicklas Backstrom for the team lead with seven points, his leadership took centre stage when the second-seeded Capitals were trailing 3-1 to the Rangers.

"It's not done yet," said Ovechkin. "We were in this situation last year, and we came back. We got that experience, and it was a good experience. We know how to come back."