- The Washington Times - Monday, May 11, 2015

It was tucked away into his responses, almost as if it were an afterthought, but Alex Ovechkin made it known twice on Sunday night that there was a message he wanted conveyed.

Ovechkin, the Washington Capitals‘ star left wing, twice said that his team would win the series against the New York Rangers on Wednesday, when Game 7 in the Eastern Conference semifinal will be played in New York.

Such a victory would represent a comeback of sorts for the Capitals, who led by two games in the best-of-seven series after winning Game 4 and were 1:41 away from advancing in Game 5 when the Rangers came back to win.

New York also won Game 6 on Sunday, using two goals in the first period and two in the third to take a 4-3 victory in what was the highest-scoring outing of the series.

Ovechkin was first asked after the game about the Capitals‘ deficit, which stood at 4-1 after Dan Boyle’s goal at 4:24 of the third period. After noting that Washington had “a ton of chances” after New York took the three-goal lead, Ovechkin cited the team’s character as a reason why it battled back before saying, “We gonna come back and win this series.”

Then, minutes later, Ovechkin was asked the same question and gave the same response, then again repeated his declaration.

“We’re gonna play our game and we’re gonna come back and we’re gonna play Montreal or Tampa [Bay],” Ovechkin said, referring to the teams playing in the other Eastern Conference semifinal series.

The sign of confidence is nothing new from Ovechkin, a six-time 50-goal scorer — including this season — who has made assertions about his desires before. Coach Barry Trotz said Monday, an off day for the team because of the additional day built into the schedule, that he appreciated Ovechkin’s remarks.

“I think I have a lot more respect for someone who will be bold enough to say, ‘I’m the leader of the hockey team, we’re going to go there and give our best game and we’re going to win the hockey game,’” Trotz told reporters at the team’s practice facility. “I’d rather have that than a leader going, ‘Well, we’re going there to lose.’ I mean, come on. What do you expect a player to say? I love that. I love that a player has got the wherewithal to say, ‘Hey, we’re going to go there and we’re going to go after them and we’re going to leave it out there.’ I have a lot of respect for players that say that.”

Washington quickly fell behind on Sunday, with left wing Chris Kreider scoring a goal 40 seconds into the game and another with 0.2 seconds remaining in the first period to stake the Rangers to an early two-goal lead.

The Capitals began their awakening in the second period, outshooting their opponent, 18-4, but their progress was impeded in the first 4:24 of the third period after the Rangers added two more goals.

Not only did Washington fight back with goals by Evgeny Kuznetsov and Joel Ward to trim its deficit to one, but it did something else fairly astonishing. It did not permit the Rangers to take a shot attempt over the final 14:55 of the game and racked up 32 of its own during that timeframe — the two goals, plus seven that were stopped, 15 that were blocked and 10 that outright missed.

New York also withstood a power play with 2:44 remaining — including 58 seconds of six-on-four, when the Capitals pulled Braden Holtby out of net with 1:42 to play — and several quality looks, including one by defenseman John Carlson at right minutes, just after Kuznetsov’s goal, and a handful from Ovechkin.

All told, the Capitals finished with 45 shots on goal, compared to the Rangers‘ 28, and an eye-opening 96 shot attempts, with 35 in the third period alone.
“It says a little bit about the character in our room, kind of never say die,” fourth-line right wing Tom Wilson said after the game. “We just can’t put ourselves in that hole. It’s the playoffs. A team gets a 4-1 lead, they shouldn’t let us back in it. You can’t start from there.”

Earlier in the series, Trotz compared Ovechkin to Mark Messier, the former Rangers captain who could score, was fast and played a physical style of game. Messier famously guaranteed in 1994 that the Rangers would win Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Final against the New Jersey Devils — and he scored three goals in that game, helping his team win the game, the series and, later, its first Stanley Cup in 54 years.

“He called the shot and he backed it up, so we talk about that,” Trotz said Monday. “It’s famous now.”

As for Ovechkin’s comments?

“Who knows?” Trotz said.

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