- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 12, 2015

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Who knew when Washington Capitals coach Barry Trotz compared Alex Ovechkin to Mark Messier following his team’s game one win over the New York Rangers, Ovechkin would take it seriously?

“He’s really similar to Mark Messier,” Trotz told reporters. “He’s one of those rare talents that can play a really heavy game, intimidate you with his speed, intimidate you with his skill and his physicality. That’s a pretty rare talent. Ovi has been terrific for us as an all around player this year. … You have to give Ovi all the credit.”

Or the blame.

Ovechkin laughed when he was told about his coach’s comparison to Messier, and said, “I’m Russian, not Canadian.”

But he wasn’t laughing in the Capitals‘ locker room following his team’s 4-3 loss to the Rangers on Sunday night at the Verizon Center, which allowed New York to tie a second-round series that the Capitals had once led, 3-1. Ovechkin channeled his inner Messier and told reporters that Washington would win Game 7 — and thus the series — on Wednesday night at Madison Square Garden.

“We almost tie the game, and the character of this group, it shows a lot,” Ovechkin told reporters. “We’re going to come back and win the series. … We’re going to play our game and we’re going to come back and we’re going to play Montreal or Tampa.”

In 1994, Messier did the same thing in New York in its series against the New Jersey Devils when he told reporters, “We’re going to go in and win Game 6. That was the focus this morning and it’s the way we feel right now. We’ve done that all year, we’ve won all the games we’ve had to win.

“I know we’re going to go in and win Game 6 and bring it back here [to the Garden] for Game 7,” Messier said. “We have enough talent and experience to turn the tide. That’s exactly what we’re going to do in Game 6.”

There are a few differences.

Messier made his declaration while the Rangers were down 3-2 in the series. His promise of victory was to win Game 6 — not Game 7, or the series.

Second, Messier had five Stanley Cup championships on his resume to add some credibility to his declaration of victory.

And finally, it was made following a practice — not in the heat of the moment following a loss.

It has since become the stuff of legends, since the Rangers went on to win Game 6 — after Messier had a hat trick — and the series. But Messier told the New York Post last year that after he said it, “I would’ve liked to crawl back into bed and had it disappear, originally.”

Like Messier’s declaration, Ovechkin’s comments have taken on a life of their own — the defining statement going into Game 7. An optimist might say that this was the captain’s way of taking the heat off his teammates and putting it on himself. An optimist might say it was a declaration of the confidence that runs through the locker room.

A Capitals fans might say it was a declaration of desperation.

A Capitals fan might say it was Ovechkin looking at yet another epic failure, to go along with his resume of Stanley Cup and Olympic failures, and couldn’t deal with the thought of another collapse.

A Capitals fans might say it was Ovechkin wondering how hollow his words might sound now that were picked by NBC Sports microphones in Washington’s Game 1 2-1 win over the Rangers at the Garden, when Ovechkin, after scoring, told goalie Henrik Lundqvist, “All series, baby, all series.”

Ovechkin has been held scoreless in the past four games.

He refused to back off his prediction at practice Tuesday. “I don’t care what everybody think,” Ovechkin told reporters. “I care what we think here as a team.”

Here, though, is what everyone will think — it’s all on Ovechkin one more time. Joel Ward and Jason Chimera can contribute, and Braden Holtby can be the backbone, but it all comes back to Ovechkin one more time — the “Great Eight”, who has had a press kit set aside in the Capitals‘ press room listing all his individual accomplishments.

That is perhaps what Ovechkin recognized in the despair of the moment following the Game 6 loss.

Here we are again — and it is all on me.

• Thom Loverro is co-host of “The Sports Fix,” noon to 2 p.m. daily on ESPN 980 and espn980.com.

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