Alex Ovechkin is headed to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time in his career. Alex Ovechkin scored the deciding goal in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Wednesday night, setting up a Final showdown between Alex Ovechkin and the Vegas Golden Knights. Alex Ovechkin delivered a thorough performance that will surely be remembered as one of the greatest moments in the history of Alex Ovechkin.
What? If Alex Ovechkin gets all the blame when the Washington Capitals are eliminated from the playoffs, shouldn't he get all the credit when they advance?
Braden Holtby had a second-straight whatever and Andre Burakovsky scored something something, but what's important is we are four wins from being freed from the worst narrative prison in sports (Skip Bayless narratives about LeBron James not included), a narrative that would have kept its knee pressed against our necks until the end of time if Game 7 had gone a little differently.
Ovechkin had a yawning net and a chance to put the Capitals in front 2-0 in the first period but flubbed the attempt. There's another universe in which Victor Hedman's blast went off the post and into the net instead of wide, Yanni Gourde doesn't miss the open net and Tampa wins 2-1. The margins in Game 7 may not be remembered as razor-thin but a total of about eight inches would have flipped the game completely. There is an alternate universe where people right now are listening to Mike Milbury talk about the "grit" of Ryan Callahan and "winning mojo" of Chris Kunitz.
The takes would have been fed to us like gruel at an orphanage. "Yeah, Ovechkin scored 100 percent of the Caps' goals in a road Game 7 but he clearly didn't want it enough." This is a sport in which 20 players can affect an outcome yet everything always seems to be heaped on one guy who may not even play one-third of the game. Maybe blaming Ovechkin all these years actually is worse than anything involving Bayless and LeBron.
One of my favorite manifestations of the Ovechkin narratives involves his leadership. It usually goes something like, "Ovechkin has captained the Capitals to another playoff exit." You know, like he's a literal fucking captain steering the team into losses. "Avast ye, maties! I spy an iceberg shaped like a glorious white L! Let Lieutenant Hunter take ye wheel and guide us toward her at a carefully slow pace! Then let Admiral Oates have a turn! Throw Ensign Forsberg over the side and make room for the Erat Anchor! Riches shall be ours!"
The same people that m-bate themselves into a coma thinking about how hockey is the Ultimate Team Game are usually the first to saddle the blame for team losses on an individual, and for some reason it's usually the team's best player. It's like blaming a five-star chef for a restaurant's failure when the wait staff is shitting in all the food in front of the customers. You'll never find a restaurant critic writing, "Chef Ovechkin Fails to Lead Employees to Shit-Free Food Glory" because restaurant critics aren't dipshits.
This is the part where I put Ovechkin's career postseason numbers into context like a goddamned idiot. You never see film journalists doing, "Here's Why Meryl Streep Is the Best Actress of All Time" pieces that list her Oscar wins and nominations but unfortunately for me I work in a really stupid industry dominated by really stupid people.
Ovechkin has 58 goals and 112 points in 116 postseason games. He ranks 40th all time in playoff points per game (0.97) and fifth among active players. He is tied for 16th all time and third among active players in playoff goals per game (0.50), trailing Jake Guentzel (0.62), a true winner that knows how to get the job done in the postseason unlike… sorry, Don Cherry grabbed the keyboard from me.
Ovechkin's one truly bad postseason came after the lockout-shortened 2013 season. He had one goal and one assist in seven games against the Rangers. He had four goals and 11 points in 13 games during the two postseason series losses to the Penguins in 2016 and 2017. You can make a case he disappeared during the second round in 2015 against the Rangers when he had two goals and one assist in seven games, but he had 33 shots over those seven games and scored his team's only goal in the Game 7 overtime loss.
Saying Ovechkin isn't a winner based on a couple subpar series when his body of work shows he's objectively one of the best players in NHL history is like saying Meryl Streep is a bad actress because of Ricki and the Flash, only nobody would ever do the latter because that industry isn't dominated my morons.
Ovechkin is second in goals (12) and points (22) this postseason but here's the beauty of this narrative—it has a loophole. Let's say over the next seven games Ovechkin doesn't register a single point. He shoots and shoots but nothing gets past Marc-Andre Fleury because his deal with the devil supersedes the one Ovechkin made. Every game features a highlight package of Deryk Engelland "shutting down" Ovechkin and Jeremy Roenick saying he'd rather have Erik Haula.
If the Capitals win four more games, the narrative still dies, because as we've learned from this narrative over the past decade, it doesn't matter what Ovechkin does, good or bad—it's been established that winning is all that matters. Ovechkin going pointless and the Caps winning the Cup will cause the brains of all the worst people to explode, and isn't that the most important thing for everyone?
And maybe this narrative is the head vampire of narratives, and killing it means all the other bad narratives go away. Four more wins and maybe we'll never have to hear about how "fighting creates momentum" and "Tom Wilson is good." It would be heaven.
Who are we kidding? We know how this goes. Vegas wins in four, Ovechkin has 11 points and Michael Wilbon spends 15 minutes on PTI yelling about how Ovechkin's selfishness and the Knights' "team game" was the Capitals' downfall and it's the most-watched piece of hockey content this season.