5 Signs That Alex Ovechkin Is Ready to Take Over the Stanley Cup Playoffs

Robert Wood@@bleachRWreachrCorrespondent IMay 8, 2013

5 Signs That Alex Ovechkin Is Ready to Take Over the Stanley Cup Playoffs

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    Alex Ovechkin was nearly unstoppable during the second half of the 2013 NHL season, propelling the Washington Capitals into the Stanley Cup playoffs.

    There is no reason to believe he won't be unstoppable in the postseason either.

    Here are five signs that Alex Ovechkin is ready to take over the Stanley Cup playoffs.

     

    Note: All statistics updated through May 6 courtesy of NHL.com unless noted otherwise.

5. Making His Points

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    Alex Ovechkin has been right in the thick of things for the Washington Capitals so far this postseason.

    Through two games, the Caps had a total of four goals in what began as a low-scoring Eastern Conference Quarterfinals series against the New York Rangers. And Ovechkin was involved in two of them.

    In Game 1, Ovechkin cashed in on a rebound in the second period, scoring Washington's first of three goals in the frame as the Caps won 3-1.

    And in Game 2, Ovechkin assisted on Mike Green's game-winner in overtime, breaking a scoreless tie.

    However in Game 3, Ovechkin had no points and a plus/minus rating of minus-one, as he was on the ice for the game-winning goal as the Rangers prevailed 4-3.

    Ovechkin will be a dangerous man in Game 4 on Wednesday, as he looks to get back on the good side of the box score.

4. Power Playful

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    Alex Ovechkin is on the Capitals' No. 1 power-play unit. Duh. But Ovechkin is not the unit's only superstar.

    Two top-six centers—Nicklas Backstrom and Mike Ribeiro—play on the unit as well. These two pivots keep penalty killers guessing as to where the final pass will come from.

    The center of the 1-3-1 power-play setup is occupied by Troy Brouwer, a big-bodied power forward with a lethal short-range slap shot. He consistently draws plenty of attention.

    Last but not least is Mike Green, the offensively gifted defenseman who acts as the fifth forward on the Caps' power play and forces penalty killers to pick their poison.

    Ovechkin reaps the rewards of playing on the same power play-unit as these four highly skilled players. Even if Ovechkin does not actually score a power-play goal as he did in Game 1, he is often credited with a power-play assist, as he was in Game 2 on Mike Green's overtime winner.

    Ovechkin will continue to rack up power-play points, as long as the Capitals keep drawing an equal number of power plays as their opponent.

3. Top Shelf, 117 Proof

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    Alex Ovechkin is the right wing in the Capitals' latest incarnation of "The Vodka Line."

    The current mixture is one part Russian (Ovechkin), two parts Swedish (Nicklas Backstrom and Marcus Johansson). This trio has been a potent combination for the Capitals ever since being brewed by head coach Adam Oates.

    The Vodka Line is first and foremost powered by Ovechkin and Backstrom, Washington's Dynamic Duo. The two can practically read each other's minds on the ice.

    But what makes this concoction too strong a drink for most opponents is the addition of Johansson. MoJo has finally found a home in the NHL as a winger and not a centerman, and his speed is too much for most defenders.

    Perhaps the best example of this line's potency was Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals against the Rangers. Ovechkin, Backstrom and Johansson were a dizzying combination of speed, skill and precision that left the Rangers' heads spinning.

    The Vodka Line must keep lining up shots so that Ovechkin can keep knocking them back. Only then can the Capitals knock out their opponents.

2. Getting Plenty of Oates

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    Washington Capitals head coach Adam Oates knows a thing or two about connecting with an elite NHL goal scorer.

    Dan Rosen of NHL.com details his history:

    Oates helped [Brett] Hull score 212 goals over parts of three seasons when they were teammates with the St. Louis Blues in the early 1990s. Oates also helped Cam Neely score 50 goals in 49 games with the Boston Bruins in 1993-94 and Peter Bondra get 52 with the Capitals in 1997-98.

    Brett Hull himself explained to Dan Rosen how Oates used his experience as a player to connect with Ovechkin:

    ... Adam gave Ovi that will to score by working with him, talking with him about where to go, what to do and making the game fun for him again. There's no question he put the onus on Ovi to be the guy without putting the pressure on him to be the guy. Obviously he took it and ran with it because for the last three-quarters of the year he was the best player in the NHL, hands-down. 

    Now that the Capitals are in the playoffs, Adam Oates will continue to help Alex Ovechkin be the best player in the NHL.

1. More Fuel from the Critics

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    Alex Ovechkin heard a lot from his critics this season.

    On Feb. 27, Mike Milbury said that "when you have great talent, it comes with great expectations and accountability" and that Ovechkin "should be ashamed of himself" (via Dan Steinberg of The Washington Post).

    But then Ovechkin exploded for 23 goals over the last 23 games of the 2013 regular season, finishing with 32 goals to lead the NHL. He won the Maurice "Rocket" Richard Trophy, becoming the first player to win the award three times since its inception in 1998-99 (Hockey-Reference.com).

    After the Capitals won the Southeast Division for the fifth time in six seasons on the strength of Ovechkin's offensive power surge, Ovechkin told Chuck Gormley of CSN Washington that “it seems like people who been all over me, they can close their mouths.”

    Not so fast, according to Nicholas J. Cotsonika of Yahoo! Sports. Ovechkin's answer only begets more questions:

    Oh, Alex Ovechkin is back all right. Back to leading the NHL in goals. Back to leaping into the glass in celebration. Back in the MVP debate with Sidney Crosby and other stars. Back to answering the same old questions about the playoffs. Can he score? Can he sacrifice? Can he be a complete player? Can he make the difference when it matters most? Can he lead the Washington Capitals to their first Stanley Cup?

    And now Ovechkin has another critic to answer after Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals, a 4-3 regulation loss to the New York Rangers on Monday. Stephen Whyno of The Washington Times tweeted a quote from New York Rangers defenseman Ryan McDonagh, who was on the ice against Ovechkin for the Rangers' game-winning goal:

    Pat Leonard of the New York Daily News was disappointed that Ovechkin was not made available for comment on Tuesday to respond to McDonagh's comments:

    Rest assured, Ovechkin will provide his response throughout the course of the Stanley Cup playoffs, starting with Game 4 against the Rangers.