- - Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Washington Capitals coach Todd Reirden was asked about Alex Ovechkin’s outburst in the third period in Monday night’s 5-2 loss against Carolina in Game 6 in Raleigh, when the superstar got a game misconduct and was kicked out after displaying his frustration with the officiating.

Reirden went to the Land of Lost Opportunities for an answer.

“He’s an all-in, emotional guy that cares a ton.” Reirden said. “You look back a few years ago and there were some people that talked about his lack of care four or five years ago and I think it’s so far from that. He’s all about wanting to win, emotionally wears it on his sleeve. I think that’s not how we want to handle it, but I think a little bit of it shows his passion and his desire to win.

“He feels he has a huge goal for us there that’s disallowed on a puck that’s loose that he can see, that certainly we can see from the bench that it’s not completely covered,” Reirden said. “So it’s a difficult one, but I think we’d like to handle those situations different.

“But like I said, four or five years ago, it would be like, ‘Well, why doesn’t he react and get mad?’” he said. “And now he’s unbelievably passionate about trying to do everything he can about pushing our team to the next level and knows that he’s going to do everything in his power to help us do it.”

Whatever Reirden’s intent in going down this road, it becomes a contrast in Ovechkin’s style of play. If he is now “unbelievably passionate,” then what was he before, when there were opportunities like the one he grabbed by the throat last year?

The Land of Lost Opportunities is where the Capitals‘ playoff past lives — the disappointing chokes and early exits that came to define the Alex Ovechkin era. Last year, of course, changed everything — the Stanley Cup championship that was missing from the great Ovechkin’s resume. The conversation about Ovechkin changed after he hoisted the Cup over his heads skating around the ice in Las Vegas.

He has a Stanley Cup ring. There is a banner hanging from the rafters of the Capital One Arena that says Stanley Cup champions 2018. Nothing can change that.

But years from now, when they are looking back at the Ovechkin era — perhaps the era of the greatest player in hockey history when he is done — there will be questions about lost opportunities.

The New York Mets will always have their magical 1986 World Series championship to celebrate, but players on those teams believe they had so much talent — led by young superstars Darryl Strawberry and Dwight Gooden — that they should have had more to show for that talent. They lost the NL East to the St. Louis Cardinals in 1985 and 1987, and then lost to the Los Angeles Dodgers in the 1988 National League Championship Series.

The Baltimore Orioles went to the World Series in 1979 and blew a 3-1 lead to the Pittsburgh Pirates to lose the series. They won 100 games in 1980, but the New York Yankees won 103. The Orioles finished just one game behind the Milwaukee Brewers in the strike split 1981 season, and then lost the American League East to the Brewers on the last weekend of 1982. Finally, in 1983, the Eddie Murray-Cal Ripken Orioles won a World Series championship, defeating the Phillies in five games. Those players, even with their World Series ring, still wonder what might have been.

The Capitals arguably had a number of missed opportunities in the Ovechkin era that could have legitimately led to a Stanley Cup — starting with his first playoff appearance in 2008, the season when they fired Glen Hanlon, hired Bruce Boudreau, and, with Sergei Fedorov added to the roster at the trading deadline, went on a remarkable 37-17-7 run and took the Philadelphia Flyers to seven games in an overtime 4-3 loss. Former general manager George McPhee, in an interview on my Cigars & Curveballs podcast, believed that was their best chance at a Stanley Cup during his time with Ovechkin, given the momentum they brought into the postseason.

The following year, they took the Pittsburgh Penguins to seven games in the Eastern Conference semifinals before collapsing at home 6-2 in Game 7. The Penguins would go on to win their first Stanley Cup with Ovechkin rival Sidney Crosby. There were the Dale Hunter Capitals of 2012, who took the New York Rangers to seven games in the Eastern Conference semifinals before losing 2-1. McPhee believed that the Hunter team probably played the best playoff style hockey of any Capitals team during his time here.

There were other losses, year after year, but some just felt more like lost opportunities — that the Capitals should have had multiple Stanley Cups led by a player of the caliber of Ovechkin.

That’s what Game 7 is Wednesday night against Carolina at Capital One Arena — another opportunity, this time with a passionate Alex Ovechkin. There is still time to fulfill the legacy many believed was Ovechkin’s future when he first burst on the scene like a Russian cosmonaut.

Hear Thom Loverro on 106.7 The Fan Wednesday afternoons and Saturday and Sunday mornings and on the Kevin Sheehan Show podcast every Tuesday and Thursday.

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