After taking a 3-1 lead in their second round series against the Rangers, the Caps lost game six 4-3 in front of their home fans on Sunday night and now must play in another excruciating game seven on Wednesday.
Despite the Caps’ history of choking in the playoffs– they have blown 3-1 series leads four times, the most in NHL history– Alex Ovechkin believes this Caps team is different. Despite winning only three of their last 14 series-clinching games, he believes they can return to the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time since 1998. And he’s not considering any other friggin’ result.
Sporting event broadcasts come filled with narratives. This isn’t narratives in the baseless and meaningless “hot take” sense, but narratives as actual storytelling, which sometimes just happen to be baseless and meaningless. During the playoffs, narratives are thrown into high gear. Everyone likes a good story in their sports, and more eyes are on the sport during playoff time, so it makes sense to try to reel in the casual viewer with a good story.
But these stories, a.k.a. narratives, shouldn’t be told at the expense of facts. Some fact-less narratives are easy to detect. When an announcer basically makes it sound as if the Caps were the laughingstock of the NHL and Alex Ovechkin was a player not playing to his potential before Barry Trotz came around, the false narrative alarm should ring. After all, the Caps have been a playoff team, and at times a serious Cup contender, for much of the Ovechkin era, and Ovechkin himself has led the league in goals five times and won three MVP awards.
On the other hand, there are some narratives that aren’t as easy to evaluate for truthiness. Below are a couple narratives that have continued to pop up this series, whether it be on TV or in conversations with friends about the games. Being that the eye test can often lie to me, I wanted to take a deeper look.
One of Jimmy Fallon’s go-to bits is Superlatives, where he takes an awkward bio photo of an athlete and then gives them a funny superlative like you’d find in a high school yearbook. Last night, he did some for the NHL again (NBC channels are airing all NHL playoff games) and Fallon mentioned three Caps players: Alex Ovechkin, Curtis Glencross, and John Erskine.
Alex Ovechkin has never made it past the second round of the playoffs. It’s a trite fact, but unavoidable. He’s been in the NHL since 2005, with his window as a primary goal-scorer closing. In 10 years, he has yet to win a Stanley Cup. Some core players around him, like Mike Green, are likely to leave this summer or within the next few years. This may be Ovechkin’s best chance to win a Cup as the undisputed leader of the Washington Capitals. Ovechkin seems to know that. In this year’s Division Final against the Rangers, DC’s captain has put on an astonishing display of talent and dedication, nearly winning games for the Capitals off his play alone. On Saturday, he came up short, but it was another immortal individual performance.
“He’s a force,” coach Barry Trotz said. “No question.”
Midway through the third period, Washington was down 3-1, having just given up a crushing goal to Rangers forward Derick Brassard. Just 90 seconds before Rangers fans were to begin their eight-minute mark “Ovi Sucks! Ovi Sucks! Ovi Sucks!” onslaught, Ovechkin bumbled down the ice with three Rangers on him. He knifed straight through Dan Girardi and Ryan McDonagh, New York’s top defenders, as the two hopelessly whacked at Ovi. Falling to his knees, he let off a perfectly placed wrist shot that went top shelf on Henrik Lundqvist. It was a goal that was nearly impossible to imagine another player in the NHL scoring. It was utter brilliance, under immense pressure, on a huge stage. Save for the cheers of Capitals players, MSG fell silent.
Down two goals to the New York Rangers at the tail end of the second period on Saturday, the Capitals were on a desperate search for points on the scoreboard. With 6:01 left in the frame, Evgeny Kuznetsov pulled a goal out of thin air, as he has so many times during these playoffs. Kuznetsov’s surprising and alert goal put the Caps within one, almost leading to a stunning comeback. Despite a late-game flourish, Washington lost. Tied for the Capitals team lead in playoff goals with Alex Ovechkin, Kuznetsov was once again superb. Nevertheless, the result was not good enough for him.
“Today I score, but next game another guy score,” Kuznetsov told me. “Who cares right now who score today? We lose the game.”
Holy hell. In game two, Alex Ovechkin scored one of the greatest goals of his career. Skating into the New York Rangers’ zone, Ovechkin skates through two defenders. Then as he’s falling down to the ice, the Russian machine rips a shot to the top left corner past future Hall of Fame goaltender Henrik Lundqvist.
“Just the big guy on campus, you know?” Ward explained. “The Big Cheese, it’s like the king on the throne. I mean, the Cheese kind of holds everything together in here, you know?”
On Thursday night, Ward, playing on the first line again with Nicklas Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin, showed why he’s such a big deal. The winger scored with 1.3 seconds remaining in the third period after being marvelously set up by Alex Ovechkin. Ward also scored in game seven on Monday. He famously netted the series-ending goal in deciding game against the Boston Bruins two years ago.