Published November 20, 2014
ARLINGTON, Va. -- Capitals GM George McPhee shipped Chris Clark to Columbus at the end of December, making room for Alex Ovechkin to take over the captaincy that was going to be his at some point anyway.
Ovechkin's teammates unanimously told coach Bruce Boudreau that No. 8 was their leader and really the only person that deserved to wear the "C." It made perfect sense considering this is Ovechkin's team and Washington D.C. is Ovechkin's town.
He owns the Verizon Center as much as the late Abe Pollin ever did, and Ted Leonsis ever will.
That's why, like it or not, once Game 7 is complete Wednesday (7 p.m., VERSUS, TSN, RDS), the story will go one of two ways: It'll be Ovechkin's courage that lifted the Capitals off the cliff that they are precipitously hanging from, or his fault they blew a series that was in their hands after four games.
"He's been leading us all season and we expect nothing less from him. He's a good player, a vocal leader and a leader on the ice. We expect a huge game from him." -- Eric Fehr
"I think it's another opportunity for his reputation to grow," Boudreau said Tuesday from Kettler Capitals Iceplex.
"I mean, people love Alex Ovechkin stories and if he was to rise to the occasion -- and I know he will mentally and hopefully he can on the ice -- than everybody will build that up probably twice as much as it should have been," he added. "And if he doesn't succeed, they'll build it up twice as much as it should have been in that respect, too. That comes with the price of being one of the top players in the League."
Ovechkin is trying to turn a blind eye to that kind of pressure. He sees himself as one of 20 that will skate onto the Verizon Center ice Wednesday, one of 20 that will be trying to solve the mystery that is Jaroslav Halak and the Montreal Canadiens.
"Well, it's not only for me, it's a test for everybody," Ovechkin said. "I think everybody knows how important of a game it is, and it's going to be a huge test for all of us."
Captains are looked at to lead, and some are looked to in the locker room for words of encouragement. Ovechkin doesn't seem like the kind of captain that will deliver a motivational speech.
"No, not really," he said when asked if he would say something to the team before the game. "Before every game we have lots of guys who can talk, and everybody knows what we have to do. I have to lead on the ice and in the locker room, but it's not only me. I'm not the only guy that plays hockey here."
He's the only one that bears the weight of the franchise on his shoulders, though.
If the Capitals fail to get out of the first round after rolling through the regular season like a tornado through open plains, Ovechkin's reputation will take a major hit. There will be some critics who start to call him a choker, and they'll try to present viable evidence, too.
He was supposed to lead Team Russia to some kind of medal in Vancouver in February, but instead left only with tattered strings of failure hanging around his neck and a controversy after he shoved a cameraperson.
And now, in the season where he's supposed to lead the Washington Capitals to the Stanley Cup, there is the potential for a first-round exit that seemed so unfathomable just a week ago. Heck, it was unfathomable just 24 hours ago.
"Tomorrow is a day one team is going to be going on vacation," Ovechkin said, "and I don't want to think about vacation right now."
Ovechkin has 5 goals and 4 assists in the series. He's been as good as advertised for most of the series, but just like he's the gap-toothed, smiling face of the happy-go-lucky franchise, he's also the face of the Capitals' struggles to beat Halak.
Halak's scintillating 53-save performance Monday drew him comparisons to Patrick Roy from legendary Montreal columnist Red Fisher.
"I'd say in terms of playoff hockey I've seen -- of course I've only covered the Canadiens for the past 55 years -- that's the best goaltending I've seen next to Patrick Roy against the Rangers in overtime (in 1986)," Fisher told Mike Wise of the Washington Post. "Roy stopped 13 shots in overtime that night before the Canadiens had one shot -- and Claude Lemieux scored on it. Other than that, tonight was the greatest."
Ovechkin, though, smiled when Halak's performance was brought up Tuesday as if to indicate that he's ready for the challenge, ready to tackle the Slovak sensation head on.
"It's going to be a pretty interesting game, a pretty interesting battle," said Ovechkin, who was foiled by Halak on each of his eight shots Monday. "We can't think about Halak in the net and we have to do something different; we have to play the same way. We have had great chances; we just have to score goals."
Boudreau loves the attitude from his captain.
"I bet if you ask Alex, he still thinks he's going to score a goal," Boudreau said. "He thinks he's going to score every game."
He doesn't necessarily have to get one Wednesday, but Ovechkin has to do just about everything else to lead his team to a win.
That's what captain's do.
"He's been leading us all season and we expect nothing less from him," Capitals right wing Eric Fehr said. "He's a good player, a vocal leader and a leader on the ice. We expect a huge game from him."
Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl