Alex Ovechkin shook hands with the opposing coach, then bowed his head and muttered to himself as he skated into position to lead the defeated Washington Capitals through the handshake line. He barely spoke above a whisper while reporters canvassed a dressing room full of players explaining their most recent postseason disappointment.
The Capitals crashed and burned Monday in a 5-0 loss to the New York Rangers in Game 7 on home ice. That coincided with Ovechkin’s sixth consecutive game without a goal, the longest playoff drought of his career.
The postgame questions were painful and the lack of answers even worse. The weight of that emptiness fell on the captain, whose success this season and in past years has proven to be so closely correlated to his team’s.
“It’s very frustrating,” he said. “That’s the whole point. You’re here to win the games and try to win the Cup.”
Ovechkin has been trying for eight seasons now, and the results have been the same. The repeated futility highlights what Rangers coach John Tortorella said Sunday after New York staved off elimination in Game 6.
“The regular-season crap means nothing,” said Tortorella, who etched his name on the Stanley Cup in 2004. “You make your legacy as a player in these type of situations.”
Tortorella spoke generally, not specifically referring to Ovechkin, but the sentiment applies to No. 8 now as much as ever.
He won his third NHL scoring title this season and is a candidate for his third Hart Trophy, given to the league’s MVP. But those did nothing to mitigate the hollow feeling after Game 7.
Ovechkin began Monday night as though aware of that dreaded possibility. He darted around Verizon Center’s ice, aiming at anyone wearing a white and blue sweater. With rocket boosters in his skates, he exuded energy and the sheer will to change this franchise’s history of postseason futility and, by extension, his own reputation.
It’s not as though he disappeared in the series. His 30 shots in seven games led the series, although he managed only one shot in the decisive game.
In Game 6 “he had five great chances,” coach Adam Oates said. “They just didn’t go in for him. He continued to play good hockey, which is very important.”
If Ovechkin was good, then Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist was better. Lundqvist wants a Stanley Cup to validate the Vezina Trophy he won last season. He’s a step closer after shutting out the Capitals over 120 minutes with his team facing elimination.
“He’s the best goalie right now in the league, and he was unbelievable today again,” Ovechkin said. “He makes incredible saves keeping them in the game, especially Game 6.”
With the Rangers top defensive pairing of Dan Girardi and Ryan McDonagh determined to limit Ovechkin’s space and shooting lanes, Washington didn’t get the secondary scoring New York did.
After all, New York star forward Rick Nash didn’t score in the series, but his teammates backed him up with five goals Monday.
“A guy like Ovi, who likes to shoot the puck—it’s the best blocking team in the league, by far,” Capitals defenseman Karl Alzner said. “You’ve got to find ways to score, and if you can’t, then other guys have to find ways to score, and if no one can, then this happens.”
The postmortem, then, involved spreading blame throughout the dressing room.
“It’s hard to overcome, but you need everybody to do it,” Alzner said. “We were very, very fortunate coming down the stretch that he was scoring almost every game. If he wasn’t scoring, it was usually his shots that were setting up the goal.
“And so you take it for granted sometimes when you kind of expect that it’s going to in every time when he shoots the puck. And playoffs is just a different animal, especially against these guys.”
An animal Ovechkin has yet to conquer. He finished his media session by answering a few questions in Russian for the European journalists in the bunch. Then he disappeared into the dressing area to begin another offseason of contemplating what’s missing on his resume.
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