Backstrom answers questions at Kettler Capitals Iceplex on Tuesday. (Photo: Carolyn Kaster)
The Caps sent five players to the Olympics. None of them accomplished their ultimate goal, and only one (Marcus Johansson) appears likely to come away with a medal.
The Sochi games were most disastrous for Washington’s two best players, Nicklas Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin.
On Tuesday morning, Backstrom and Ovechkin talked to the DC media for the first time since their disappointments, holding successive press conferences at Kettler Capitals Iceplex.
“It’s been a couple tough days,” Backstrom said at the start of a media availability that became combative at times. “I don’t wish no one to have to go through this. It’s not fun.”
Backstrom, as we all know, had a nice tournament for Sweden before being barred from the goal medal game due to a high level pseudoephedrine in his urine, a move which Caps teammate Martin Erat called “bullshit.” Backstrom says it came from taking Zyrtec D, which is available without a prescription but not placed on pharmacy shelves.
“I’ve been taking Zyrtec D for the last seven years and I haven’t been doing anything differently,” Backstrom said. “I’ve been playing internationally, the world championship, the Olympics before.”
The center insisted he did not overdose, saying he “absolutely” follows the instructions on the package. Backstrom said he took only one pill a day. When asked if he should have been more careful, he concluded the fault lay with team doctors.
“Who do I blame?” Backstrom said. “Well I followed the doctor’s recommendation.”
“I’m not a doctor,” he added later.
Backstrom was told of the failed test just two hours before Sunday’s game against Canada. When he addressed reporters just after missing the biggest game of his life, Backstrom was crushed. He likely will not receive a silver medal for Sweden’s second place finish, though that process could take two more weeks.
“Everyone that knows me, teammates, everyone I play with, knows that it’s an allergy medicine — nothing else,” Backstrom said.
L’affaire Backstrom is a huge story in Sweden. According to the newspaper Aftonbladet, Backstrom’s comments were originally supposed to be aired live in Sweden, but the Capitals shut the broadcast down. They also only permitted Swedish reporters to ask questions in English.
Meanwhile, Ovechkin, with the Olympics being held in his homeland, scored just once. Anything less than gold was a failure for Russia, and after the team didn’t even medal, recriminations towards Ovi poured in from angry Russians. As the face of the team, he has received much of the blame, most notably from Russian head coach Zinetula Bilyaletdinov.
“I don’t think he mean to criticize me,” Ovechkin said of those comments. “It’s just a situation where my job to score goals. I didn’t score lots of goals out there. I scored one my first shot and that’s it.”
“I feel sorry about the game, first of all for my county people,” the Capitals captain added. “You didn’t get the results. You didn’t get any medal. The fans, the media and all the people who support Russia, family, was upset but life goes on.”
A lot of the criticism of Ovi is unjust. Bilyaletdinov misused Ovechkin, having him play on the left wing and skate the puck into the the offensive zone most of the time. Caps coach Adam Oates, meanwhile, has rekindled Ovi’s star status in the last two seasons by having use his shot rather than his skates to create offense. Owing to politics, the Russian team was also stocked with KHL, rather than NHL, players. Still, Ovechkin took responsibility.
“I’m going to criticize me,” Ovechkin said. “I have chances, I have moments to score the goals, I play with great players out there. I didn’t do it. It’s blame on me.”
To make things even worse, Ovechkin’s dad, who often visits him in Washington, had a heart attack while at the Olympics. Ovi stayed by his side in Sochi for a few extra days. On Tuesday, Ovi reported that his father was doing better and was flying back to Moscow to recover. Ovechkin was not told of what happened until a few days after the heart attack, when Russia was been eliminated by Finland in the quarterfinals.
“I understand it,” Ovechkin said of his family’s decision. “It’s a situation where all the Russian people, all the families want to get success in the Olympics. As soon as I found out that he’s in the hospital and he’s feeling not that good, he could be dying, I just forget the game when we lose against Finland.”
The question now is whether Backstrom and Ovechkin will return to the NHL defeated. After Russia failed to medal in 2010, Ovi came back a shell of his pre-Olympic self. Since Alex Ovechkin is basically the entire Capitals offense, a decline in his fantastic goal scoring pace could doom Washington’s playoff chances.
“This is my third Olympics and we did not get success,” Ovechkin said. “In Vancouver it was tough loss and this is a very tough loss for me and for Russia, but I’m almost 30. I have to handle it. I have to fight through it.”