(Reuters) - Alex Ovechkin is well established as one of the NHL’s premier players but a lack of playoff success has followed him throughout his career, a storyline that could soon change with the Russian on the verge of a maiden Stanley Cup.
Ovechkin, who until this year had never made it past the halfway mark of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, bore the brunt of the blame for the Washington Capitals’ past shortcomings even though he was never truly at fault.
But with time running out on a career that will get Ovechkin in the Hall of Fame, the 32-year-old captain is playing with a sense of urgency and has his team three wins from bringing the Capitals their first championship in their 43-season history.
“In the playoffs you don’t have tomorrow, you know. In the regular year, if you play not good or you lose a game, you know like, okay, you have like 60 games left to bounce back or whatever,” said Ovechkin.
“Here you can’t do — you can’t make mistakes. You have to be focused all the time, and you have to play hard and play smart (for the) full 60 (minutes).”
Ovechkin notched the first Stanley Cup goal of his storied NHL career during the second period of Wednesday’s Game Two when he scored on the powerplay from a sharp angle to give the Capitals a lead they would not surrender.
Now, after splitting the first two games of the best-of-seven Stanley Cup Final with the Vegas Golden Knights, Ovechkin has the Capitals in prime position to take a stranglehold on the series as they host the next two games.
Ovechkin has 13 playoff goals this year, which is one short of tying the Capitals’ single-season post-season record, and is silencing any remaining critics with each game he plays.
“I sense a guy that’s very focused, a guy that’s on a little bit of a mission, and it’s good,” said Capitals head coach Barry Trotz.
“It’s not just the goalscoring. Alex understands that the complete game, the commitment level, those little details, those hard things they have to do... that are necessary for you to win, he’s all in on that.”
Easily one of the greatest pure goalscorers the game has ever seen, Ovechkin has won three world championships with Russia but has also fallen short of the podium in three Olympic appearances.
For Ovechkin, the ultimate goal of a journey that began 14 years ago when he was selected first overall by Washington is suddenly closer than it has ever been before.
While a Stanley Cup victory would most certainly erase past disappointments endured on the NHL and international stage, Ovechkin is not letting his emotions alter his approach.
“You just have to manage your emotions and do the same, exactly the same as what you did in past years,” he said.
“Stanley Cup Finals, like we’ve never been here. Of course it’s exciting, but I don’t want to get too excited. I don’t want to get too energetic right now before the games.
“I’d rather keep my emotions, keep my energy on the ice and do my best over there.”
Reporting by Frank Pingue in Toronto; Editing by Ken Ferris