Alex Ovechkin (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
Alex Ovechkin guaranteed a Washington Capitals win over the New York Rangers in Game 7 Wednesday night and now it's time for him to deliver on that promise. Connor McDavid, meanwhile, gets an opportunity to step up on home ice and revive his team's championship hopes.
When Washington Capitals coach Barry Trotz compared Alex Ovechkin to Hall of Famer Mark Messier after Game 1 of his team’s second-round series against the New York Rangers, he probably didn’t realize how soon his captain would have to prove him right.
Messier and Ovechkin are the only two players in NHL history to be named a first-team all-star at two different positions. Like Messier, Ovechkin has a rare blend of speed, skill and physicality. And now, like Messier, Ovechkin is putting himself out there by guaranteeing a victory, the way Messier did 21 years ago for the Rangers in the Eastern Conference final against the New Jersey Devils.
“We’re going to come back and win the series,” Ovechkin told reporters after the Capitals loss in Game 6. “We’re going to play our game, we’re going to come back and we’re going to play Montreal or Tampa.”
Now the pressure is on Ovechkin to channel his inner Messier and make it happen. This is his Messier moment. In reality, these guarantees are rather hollow because there are no repercussions for Ovechkin if the Capitals to win the series. But if Ovechkin can be the focal point of a victory in Game 7 Wednesday night, the way Messier was when he guaranteed a victory over the Devils, it will go a long way to enhancing what has become a checkered reputation in big games.
A couple of levels down, wunderkind Connor McDavid of the Erie Otters is facing the same kind of pressure. With his team down 2-0 to the Oshawa Generals going into Game 3 of the OHL final tonight, it is up to him to find a way to get out from under the smothering defense of the no-name Generals and elevate his team to victory. So far, McDavid has had to battle his way through two 21-year-old defensemen and a host of forwards who are matching his stride. And with McDavid’s Otters teammates being so ineffective, it falls on McDavid to turn the tide himself.
Kind of the way he did in the Western Conference final against the Soo Greyhounds. Most of the scouts I spoke with predicted the Otters would be hard-pressed to win two games in the series, but powered by McDavid, they lost only two. With eight of his 19 goals and 19 of his 43 points in six games against the Greyhounds, McDavid carried his team to the series win. And he’ll have to do it all over again if the Otters are to get out of the hole in which they find themselves.
Ovechkin isn’t quite so much on his own against the Rangers, but there’s little doubt the Capitals need the confident and assertive Ovechkin they had in Games 1 and 2 of the series, games in which Ovechkin scored his only goals of the series and taunted Henrik Lundqvist with his “all series long, baby,” prediction in Game 1. Ovechkin has hardly been a disappointment since then. His play at both ends of the ice has been as good as it has been in his career and he’s still playing a physical style and is a threat to make something happen every time he steps on the ice. But it’s not enough. The Capitals need one of those soul-crushing lasers for which Ovechkin has become legendary. In fact, they could probably use a couple of them in Game 7.
Game 7s have not been terribly kind to Ovechkin or the Capitals since he entered the league. He and the Capitals have played in seven of them since Ovechkin first appeared in the playoffs in 2008 and have won only two of them. Ovechkin has 2-2-4 totals in the seven games, but two of those points came in his first Game 7. He hasn’t scored a point in his past three Game 7s and hasn’t scored a goal in his past four.
For his part, McDavid has just one assist in the OHL championship series and of the six even-strength goals the Generals have scored, he’s been on the ice for four of them. But this is not an indictment of McDavid. The Generals are bigger, stronger and older than the Otters and are a defense-first group that has clogged up the ice and kept the gaps so tight McDavid hasn’t been able to generate any of his customary speed. Generals coach D.J. Smith said after Game 2 that they want to make McDavid skate through five players every time he touches the puck.
Perhaps it’s not fair to expect so much from McDavid, whose play has made the bold statements and created the off-the scales expectations. Ovechkin, on the other hand, made a fearless prediction, so it’s not unreasonable to expect him to step up to make sure it gets fulfilled.
Ovechkin and McDavid are the two biggest superstars playing hockey in May. And how they respond over the next couple of days will determine whether that run gets extended or ends in disappointment.