Alex Ovechkin scores on Henrik Lundqvist (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Alex Ovechkin has garnered his fair share of criticism in the past, some of it deserved and some of it out of line. But he's gained nothing but admirers for his play through the first two games of the Capitals second-round series against the New York Rangers.
The New York Rangers prospects of getting to the Eastern Conference final for the second straight spring depend on one factor - how much they'll be able to blunt the sheer force of Washington Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin.
After Game 1 of the series, Capitals coach Barry Trotz compared Ovechkin to one of the greatest leaders the game has ever seen when he likened Ovechkin to Mark Messier. At first blush, it seemed like one of those, "Hey, let's not go getting all crazy here," types of comments, but like Messier, Ovechkin is backing up his words. In Game 1 of the series, he taunted Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist by saying, "All series long, baby, all series," after scoring.
And true to his word, Ovechkin was back at it in Game 2, displaying the kind of playoff brilliance Capitals fans have been waiting to see. He was the best player on either team in Game 2 and provided the highlight of the game when he narrowed the Rangers lead to 3-2 in the third period with this ridiculous play:
What makes the goal so remarkable is that Ovechkin uses his power and his speed to split the defense corps of Ryan McDonagh and Dan Girardi, two veteran defenders who played Ovechkin about as tightly as they could. Not only did Ovechkin manage to get between them, he scored from his knees on one of the best goaltenders in the world.
It's becoming more clear that if the Capitals are going to go on an extended run in these playoffs, they're going to do it on the backs of Ovechkin and overworked goaltender Braden Holtby. And if they don't, the annual exercise in finger pointing at Ovechkin will not take place.
Whether it's the coaching of Trotz or simply a maturation process for Ovechkin, we are watching before our very eyes the transformation of Ovechkin from playoff disappointment to playoff beast.