Wednesday night seemed like a record that has been played over and over.
Only in this case, the end result was all too real—again.
The all-or-nothing Game Seven contest between the Washington Capitals and Montreal Canadiens pitted the NHL’s best regular-season team—the Presidents’ Trophy-winning Capitals—against the eighth-seeded Habs, a team which has shed copious amounts of blood—and a ridiculous amount of teeth—all for the chance to play in the conference semifinals.
The Capitals were chock-full of talent and primed to make a run at Lord Stanley’s Cup, especially after the Game Seven debacle against the Pittsburgh Penguins only one season ago. This was the best team superstar Alexander Ovechkin has been on since coming into the league.
It was their time
Yet after holding a solid 3-1 lead and forcing the Canadiens to play in desperation for three games in a row, the unthinkable happened. The Canadiens went to Washington—and won. It was another upset in the record books and another heartbreaking result to an otherwise stellar season for Ovechkin and Co.
The script was nothing too fantastical considering hockey fans have seen it happen over and over again in recent memory.
The Detroit Red Wings have been this century’s biggest victims in terms of being upset by low-seeded teams in the first round. It happens every few years in a sport that prides itself on being battle-tested and having momentum at key moments.
But this isn’t supposed to happen to Ovechkin.
He is the fan favorite, the antithesis of Penguins golden boy Sidney Crosby. He skates hard, he hits hard, and he scores a lot. He is a YouTube highlight reel unto himself, skating circles around his opponents and dropping the jaws of onlookers from Washington, D.C. to Moscow. He is everything that’s good about the “new” NHL.
This begs the question: Why can’t he win when it counts?
Sure, owning the league’s best record during the regular season is a great accomplishment—another banner in the rafters in the nation’s capital. But athletes don’t play to win trophies for being the best for 82 games. They compete to raise the championship trophy.
As much as I, as well as millions around the world, love watching Ovechkin play with great tenacity, it’s difficult to call him the greatest player alive right now. Yeah, he might be the most individually gifted player, but last I checked, scoring goals from your back does not give you a legacy to lean on.
To be the best, you have to beat the best. Crosby did it twice last year, defeating Ovechkin in the playoffs and then upending the defending champion Red Wings in seven games as well. Love him or hate him, he is a champion for a reason.
Sports are funny in a way. We love seeing the big dunks, the triple-deke goals, and the walk-off home runs—they take our breath away. But decades after an athlete retires, the only thing people will remember is how many rings he won and how he made his teammates better.
Judging by that formula, Ovechkin still has a lot to prove.