- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 7, 2018

LAS VEGAS — Alex Ovechkin had a personalized way to celebrate with everyone.

The party was still going strong an hour after the 2018 Stanley Cup Final was officially over, long after trophies were presented and team photos were recorded for posterity. Ovechkin returned to the ice wearing socks and flip-flops.

First, he saw T.J. Oshie, his daughter in his arms. Oshie and Ovechkin hugged as the American told his daughter to say hi.

Ovechkin wanted to see Devante Smith-Pelly next. Smith-Pelly nearly stepped on Ovechkin’s socked foot with his skate. The captain hugged members of Smith-Pelly’s family.

When Ovechkin found Lars Eller, they embraced, then let out a happy scream in unison.

After the Washington Capitals finished off the Vegas Golden Knights and won the Stanley Cup in Game 5 Thursday, Alex Ovechkin was awarded the Conn Smythe Trophy for the most valuable player in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. It was another level of vindication for the longtime NHL superstar who, however fairly or unfairly, always bore the knock of “playoff choker” on his shoulders.

“It’s just like a dream,” Ovechkin said after the game. “It was a hard, long season. We fight through it. We worked so hard through all the years. We always together. It was a whole one team sticking to the system. Doesn’t matter what happened, we didn’t panic. Even after the [second] period, we knew we just have to push it and get the result done.”

In his 13th NHL season, the captain had his best-ever postseason by every measure, setting a franchise playoff record of 15 goals along with 12 assists. He also stepped up in the secondary ways like blocking shots, and his 81 hits were third-most of any skater in the postseason.

Ovechkin scored on a power play in the second period of Game 5’s 4-3 win on Thursday night.

Still, the selection could be seen as a slight upset over Evgeny Kuznetsov, who finished the playoffs with 32 points, the second most by any player in a single postseason since 1997. But Kuznetsov said before Thursday, in his typical carefree fashion, that he didn’t care about winning the award.

“What is going to give you? Nothing, right?” he said. “People are going to talk about it, but I don’t think it’s the biggest thing for me.”

It was Kuznetsov’s way of saying that the Stanley Cup mattered more than the Conn Smythe. Ovechkin, of course, gets to have both. He recalled a moment from his rookie year in the NHL when he visited owner Ted Leonsis’s house.

“Funny story, I was at [Leonsis’s] house and we kind of met up with his family,” Ovechkin said. “We were swimming in the pool and he told me one day we’re going to win it. it was the first year. I didn’t even know the team.

“I knew he wants it so bad and this organization wants it so bad. It’s nice to be part of it. it’s nice to be in this organization all 13 years or 14, whatever. It was a tough time, but we fight through it and we get results.”

Unlike Ovechkin, Barry Trotz has been in the organization for only four years, but had a similarly difficult time winning his first Stanley Cup in his 19-year head coaching career.

“For someone who wasn’t a very good hockey player, never played in the National Hockey League, lifting the Cup, getting to lift it with Alex, who — we sort of got a little bit of the same story, if you will. That was pretty special,” Trotz said.

Braden Holtby told NBC after Thursday’s win that Ovechkin’s evolved leadership was important to the team’s success this time around.

“He came in and he realized the league was changed and he changed as well,” Holtby said. “He’s been amazing for us. And he’s just like the rest of us. We follow him because he knows one player doesn’t make a team.”

General manager Brian MacLellan posited earlier in the week that Ovechkin getting married last offseason helped settle him down in a way. Nicklas Backstrom, the teammate who has played alongside Ovechkin the longest, was asked for his opinion.

“Maybe that was the case. He was very comfortable and he was very confident, I think,” Backstrom said. “He was really calm. Everything was really good. It’s impressive the way he scores goal and the way he worked out there. He was just a machine there in the playoffs.”

Yes, a machine — many Capitals fans like to call him the Russian machine.

Ovechkin uttered that famous quote, “Russian machine never breaks,” nearly 12 years ago, before his tortured playoff history was written and rectified.

And if that fact doesn’t illustrate the long career arc of one of hockey’s greatest goal-scorers of all time, what will?

 


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