Photo by Patrick McDermott/NHLI via Getty Images
It’s been apparent for some time now that Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin is a man on a mission, and his two-goal performance in the Capitals 5-3 season finale win over the New Jersey Devils on Saturday night was proof of that. Needing three goals to reach 50 goals, Ovechkin fell one shy of the mark, but his play also accentuated an even important fact for the 32-year old former first-round pick and the rest of the Capitals. The Russian Machine is thirsty, and the only thing that will quench it is champagne sipped from the bowl of the Stanley Cup.
Having just finished his 13th NHL season, Ovechkin has long been a surefire first-ballot Hall of Famer, but the one accomplishment that has eluded him and the Capitals has been Lord Stanley’s prized chalice. Year-after-year the Capitals have fallen short of their ultimate goal of lifting the silver mug over their heads and the last two seasons in particular have left a bad taste in the mouths of the Capitals players, coaches, and fans. It was clear, however, that Ovechkin, who has long been the face of the franchise and its undisputed leader, took the team’s second consecutive second round playoff series loss to the rival Pittsburgh Penguins especially hard. For years, expectations have been placed on the Capitals to win the Stanley Cup and they have fallen short each and every time. And fair or not, many people placed the weight of these expectations on the shoulders of Ovechkin, and his drive to win has never been stronger than it has been this season.
After losing multiple key players over the summer to free agency, the Expansion Draft, and trades, the Capitals were not seen as serious contenders for the Cup, with some “experts” predicting the team would miss the playoffs. And after scoring just 33 goals last season, many believed The Great 8 had finally begun to slow down since turning 30. Ovechkin, pushed by his desire to win and to prove all the doubters wrong, changed his conditioning and offseason workout regimen to allow him to become faster and more deceptive, and continued to perfect the shot that has terrorized opposing goalies for years. And it was clear from the outset of the 2017-18 regular season that the Capitals’ 32-year old captain was playing with a purpose, as he scored three and four goals in his first two games, respectively. Over the course of the season, Ovechkin has unquestionably put the team on his back and carried them through trials and tribulations to clinch first place in the Metropolitan Division and a berth in the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Along with his team defying expectations, Ovechkin has enjoyed milestones such as his 600th career goal, 1,000th NHL game, setting the record for games played with the Capitals, and 500th assist. By finishing the season with 49 goals and 87 points in 82 games played, the Capitals’ captain has silenced his critics and doubters, and has earned the right to be in the conversation as MVP.
Ovechkin has always been a passionate, dedicated hockey player for the Capitals. There’s no question now that his burning thirst for a championship can only be quenched by a sip from the ultimate prize.
By Michael Fleetwood