By Steve Keating
VANCOUVER (Reuters) - In careers marked by dazzling acts of one-upmanship, the Vancouver Olympics could provide the ultimate stage for Canada's Sidney Crosby and Russia's Alexander Ovechkin, the greatest hockey players of their generation.
They have met in the Stanley Cup playoffs and played at world championships, but their bid for a gold medal in Vancouver is expected to offer one of the highlights of the Winter Games.
It only seems fitting for a showdown between the charismatic Canadian and the edgy Russian with the smoky visor to happen on the sporting world's biggest stage.
The tournament could end without Crosby and Ovechkin ever facing off against each other, but even the chance of a classic Russia-Canada final on February28 for the last gold medal of the Games has ice hockey fans salivating.
Both players dismissed talk of an Olympic rivalry. Crosby just said he was looking forward to Canada's game against Norway on Tuesday while Ovechkin offered a terse, "Don't care."
Choosing between the two former first overall draft picks is a bit like trying to decide between a Porsche and a Ferrari.
Crosby, the number one pick in 2005, won the Hart Trophy as NHL MVP in 2007 while Ovechkin, the top pick in 2004, has been given the award in the past two seasons.
The Russian took rookie of the year honors after becoming just the fourth player in NHL history to score 50 goals in his debut campaign. An 18-year-old Crosby countered by becoming the youngest player to score 100 points in a season when he tallied 39 goals and 63 assists.
Both Crosby and Ovechkin pull in nearly $9 million a season and millions more in endorsements, but that is where it appears any similarity between the two players ends.
Already the youngest scoring champion and youngest captain to lead his team to an NHL championship, Crosby is considered the all-Canadian boy every mom hopes her daughter brings home.
Crosby personally delivers Pittsburgh Penguins tickets to subscribers and still lives in team owner Mario Lemieux's guest house -- just as he did when he broke into the league as a baby-faced prodigy in 2005.
In stark contrast, Ovechkin is the playful bad boy whose goal scoring celebrations have earned him criticism from ice hockey purists and legions of fans.
In the preliminary rounds, which begin on Tuesday, Canada will play Norway, Switzerland and the United States. Russia, will play Latvia, Slovakia and the Czech Republic.
(Editing by Frank Pingue)