- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 13, 2008

Before Friday night’s opening contest of the Stanley Cup playoffs between the Washington Capitals and Philadelphia Flyers at Verizon Center, a group of hockey analysts was asked to size up the series.

All they wanted to talk about was Alex Ovechkin.

“He’s virtually indestructible,” TSN’s Pierre McGuire said. “I would call him a cyborg.”

“He’s taken it to another level that I haven’t seen,” NBC’s Mike Milbury said. “There’s no question he’s as electrifying a player as I’ve seen.”

And this was before he intercepted a pass near the Flyers goal with less than five minutes left in the third period, skated around defenders and drove a shot past goalie Martin Biron for the game-winning goal in a 5-4 win Friday night.

“It was proof of his brilliance and performance,” said Sergei Fedorov, who knows quite a bit about both. “He rode off the defenseman with his quickness and his skill. He outposed the goalie, lifted it up and put it in the net.”

Cyborg.

The Flyers were all over Ovechkin throughout the night, determined to make him work for every minute, yet after 55 minutes, he had enough in his tank to make a game-changing play.

Indestructible.

Philadelphia banged Ovechkin all night to try to wear him down, and Ovechkin was more than willing to bang back.

Electrifying.

The goal.

It was the talk of the town after the game, with people filing into bars or heading home — first celebrating the Caps’ playoff win, and then saying to anyone who would listen, “Did you see that goal by Ovechkin?”

And the remarkable thing is that by the time Ovechkin is done this year, it probably won’t be his greatest moment in the playoffs.

The NHL and the networks have to be pleased with what they have seen so far — the Pittsburgh Penguins taking a 2-0 lead in their series against Ottawa and then Ovechkin’s game-winner Friday night for a Caps win. Things are on track for an Ovechkin-Sidney Crosby matchup, and they may be coming up with new adjectives to describe that series.

We have now seen that Ovechkin is a player who raises his game for the moment, even when his game is already on another level. The spotlight and attention that would come from a marquee matchup in the playoffs could produce more moments like Friday night’s memorable score.

Of course, first the Capitals have to win this series, which continues today with Game 2 at Verizon Center.

You could argue that they got into position for Ovechkin to win Friday night by luck — the shot by Mike Green off Patrick Thoresen that sent Thoresen crumbling to the ice, which then allowed Green to get a short-handed shot to cut the deficit to 4-3. It was an important goal because it happened early in the third period and changed the momentum of the game, after Philadelphia had outplayed Washington in the second period, scoring three goals for a 4-2 lead.

“It’s one win,” Caps coach Bruce Boudreau said. “We’ve done nothing. … We got lucky. We’re going to have to play better if we want to win.”

I wouldn’t say they’ve done nothing. They have, at least, fired a shot across the bow in the top 10 highlights battle every night waged on ESPN.

At this time of year, those highlights are often dominated by spectacular NBA dunks, and Friday night was no exception. Hockey plays are usually not as dramatic — except when Ovechkin makes them. It was No. 4 Friday night, which was a joke, because Ovechkin’s play was Larry Bird stealing the inbounds pass from the Pistons in the 1987 Eastern Conference finals — except then, he would have taken the ball and scored himself, instead of passing it to Dennis Johnson.

That’s OK. There will be others, and by the time it is said and done, ESPN — the network that doesn’t have hockey and the game’s biggest star raising its ratings — may have no choice but to acknowledge that on a night like Friday night, no one in the world of sports did anything more impressive than Alex Ovechkin did.

You can be sure, in the studios of Bristol, Conn., just like the bars of the District, they were asking each other, “Did you see that goal by Ovechkin?”

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