Perception vs. Reality and Crosby vs. Ovechkin

When people think of Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin, two wildly disparate images come to mind. One is of the handsome, bland choir boy who speaks in cliches whether he just won the Cup or scored a gold medal winning goal. Some say the other guy looks like a caveman, parties like a Russian hockey playing Keith Richards and shoots fire balls at goalies like he’s Ken from Street Fighter II.*

Of course, a lot of those two descriptions are based on broad media brushstrokes founded on scant encounters and public appearances. Some might say that modern athletes keep the media (and the public) at arm’s length, but that description isn’t sufficient. After all, to be at arm’s length requires you to be in the same room as another person. Very few media types have gotten that close to Crosby and Ovechkin for any reasonable duration of time.

That’s why HBO’s unprecedented access during its 24/7 series has been so illuminating, yet the brief glimpses ultimately only give us more questions. Now I cannot claim intimate knowledge just because I own an HBO subscription, but allow me to quickly study a few ways the two players break their often self-imposed stereotypes.

Sidney Crosby: One of the boys?

Remember when everyone thought Tiger Woods was practically a golf ball launching robot who only seemed like he wanted to chase Jack Nicklaus on the courses … yet now it seems apparent he was chasing Wilt Chamberlain too? Well, I don’t think that Crosby has the same Batman/Bruce Wayne double life as Woods, but he has more personality than expected.

Now, he still can be as bland as a rice cake at times, but I think HBO revealed that Crosby fits in pretty well with his teammates and displays some sense of humor. There were great moments during the team’s plane trips in which Crosby was playing PSP games with his teammates and cutting it up, but one of the most interesting moments involved him discussing his much-ridiculed fight with Matt Niskanen.

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Does this mean that Crosby might be a party animal, deep down? No, I doubt that. Instead I think he’s a pretty normal guy whose blind devotion to hockey means that he won’t be caught with Russian (or Canadian) co-eds left and right like the Magic Johnson to his Larry Bird.

(Or does Crosby=Magic and Ovechkin=Bird instead? We could debate that for ages – and I would enjoy that.)

Alex Ovechkin: momma’s boy?

Conversely, the image attached to Ovechkin is that of a party animal who lavishes himself with fast women and fast cars. While that persona might be an element of Ovechkin’s personality, it doesn’t provide the whole picture.

There’s one thing about both Crosby and Ovechkin that people forget because of their absurd success and talents: they’re both still kids. Crosby is only 23 years old and Ovechkin is 25. If they remain healthy, each player should have at least 10 more years to write their career narratives.

HBO revealed just how much of a kid Ovechkin can be by showing him at home, eating his parents’ food and playing video games. Now, some noted that his parents aren’t always there, but this clip illustrates the fact that he isn’t just a wild millionaire athlete but also a young adult still growing up. This makes him just like his rival, a person who can still reasonably be called “Sid the Kid.”

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* – My memory/actual knowledge of Capcom’s fighting game mythology is hazy, but I believe that Ken was more of a party animal than Ryu. If nothing else, he had blond hair and seemed more stylish in his red dogi.

The long Stanley Cup Final wait is finally over for Alex Ovechkin, Capitals

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The celebrations continued around them as Nicklas Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin, the two longest-tenured Washington Capitals, embraced. “One more,” Backstrom said to Ovechkin.

It’s been a journey to this point for the Capitals’ two star players. They’ve experienced the numerous disappointments and been reminded of them every spring. Those three seasons that ended with a Presidents’ Trophy, and an early-round playoff exit. Those six series eliminations at the hands of the New York Rangers and Pittsburgh Penguins. The high expectations that were never met.

But this year was different. This is not the best Capitals team of the Ovechkin/Backstrom era. Even with an eighth division title since 2007-08, there were plenty of other favorites ahead of them on the list of 2018 Stanley Cup favorites. Why? Well, for starters, we’d seen that movie before and we all knew the ending.

So when the Capitals fell behind 0-2 to the Columbus Blue Jackets in the first round, it was surprising, but not too surprising. Same old Capitals, we all said. But then head coach Barry Trotz went back to his horse in Braden Holtby beginning with Game 3 and the turnaround began. Holtby would help the Capitals win 12 of his 17 starts, post a .935 even strength save percentage and two shutouts — with both coming in the final two games of the Eastern Conferenece Final against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

It was a second consecutive all-around effort for the Capitals after they lost control of the best-of-seven matchup with three straight losses following two wins at AMALIE Arena to begin the series.

“I think we’ve been waiting for this moment for a long time,” said Ovechkin. “We understand what it has to take to be in the final. You can see the effort right now. This game was unbelievable. Everybody was all in, and we get the result.”

“It only took us 11 years, but now we’re there,” said Backstrom. “It’s a great feeling, especially the way we did it, too. The way we played the game, I thought it was outstanding from everybody. Right now, I’m just happy. I’m just going to enjoy this for a couple of days.”

[Full Schedule: 2018 Stanley Cup Final]

The journey continues Monday at T-Mobile Arena for Game 1 of the Final (8 p.m. ET, NBCSN) when the Capitals visit the Vegas Golden Knights, who employ Washington’s old general manager, George McPhee, and old defenseman, Nate Schmidt. The series will certainly not be short of storylines.

Ovechkin, who is probably still holding on to the Prince of Wales Trophy as you read this, called Game 7 “probably” the biggest game of his life and of the franchise’s. He delivered by scoring 62 seconds into the game, and after the final buzzer went off the emotions of the moment rendered him unable to finish thoughts during his post-game press conference.

Years of disappointment are being wiped away with each series victories. The Capitals exorcised the ghosts of the Pittsburgh Penguins that had haunted them for years and finally got over the hump of advancing to the conference final. Now, for the first time since 1998, they’ll be playing in a series with the Stanley Cup on the line.

“Every series is tough. We just played our game, stick to the system and we deserved to win,” Ovechkin told NBCSN after Game 7. “[There] were hard moments in all series, against Tampa, against [Pittsburgh], against Columbus. but we fight through it and we’re right now four wins away from [being] Stanley Cup champions.”

MORE:
NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

PHT Morning Skate: Best and worst of Garth Snow; Is Hossa a Hall of Famer?

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Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

• The Toronto Maple Leafs have a new assistant general manager in Laurence Gilman, who has been hired one day after Brandon Pridham received a promotion to the same role. [Maple Leafs]

• What do the Calgary Flames have to do to make it back to the playoffs next season? TSN’s Scott Cullen looks at their strengths, weaknesses and needs heading into the summer. (TSN.ca)

• Rotoworld’s Ryan Dadoun looks at what went wrong with the Detroit Red Wings and Vancouver Canucks this season. (Rotoworld)

• Plenty of different teams have shocked the sporting world, but where do the Golden Knights rank in that department? They’re probably the biggest surprise in modern American sports history. (ESPN)

• The Golden Knights have been incredibly consistent throughout their inaugural season, so there’s no reason for anyone to be overlooking them at this point. (SinBin.Vegas)

• Is Marian Hossa a hall-of-famer? Apparently, this is a debate. (The Hockey Writers)

• The city of Abbotsford hasn’t had professional hockey since the AHL’s Heat left in 2014. But now that the Canucks are looking to move their farm team, Abbotsford might be back on the hockey map. (Abby News)

• Even though he’ll never play in a major tournament again, former NHLer Daniel Alfredsson is loving life as a hockey dad. (Canadian Press)

David Backes hasn’t lived up to the dollar amount of his contract, but he continues to be a useful asset for the Bruins. (CBS Boston)

• Garth Snow has been the GM of the Islanders for a while, so Newsday breaks down all of his good and bad moves. (Newsday)

• Rangers head coach David Quinn made a name for himself after his bold strategy in the 2009 National Championship Game resulted in Boston University overcoming a late two-goal deficit to win in overtime. (New York Post)

• Up top, check out the highlights from Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final between the Lightning and Capitals.

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

Full Schedule: 2018 Stanley Cup Final

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The 2018 Stanley Cup Final matchup is set and it will be the Washington Capitals against the Vegas Golden Knights.

So many different storylines to consider. George McPhee vs. his old team. Alex Ovechkin going for his first ever Cup ring. Former Penguin Marc-Andre Fleury against the Capitals. And the obvious one with the Golden Knights and their inaugural season success. It should be a fun one.

Here’s the full schedule:

Game 1 Monday, May 28 – Capitals at Golden Knights, 8 p.m. ET (NBC)
Game 2 Wednesday, May 30 – Capitals at Golden Knights, 8 p.m. ET (NBCSN)
Game 3 Saturday, June 2 – Golden Knights at Capitals, 8 p.m. ET (NBCSN)
Game 4 Monday, June 4 – Golden Knights at Capitals, 8 p.m. ET (NBC)
Game 5* Thursday, June 7 – Capitals at Golden Knights, 8 p.m. ET (NBC)
Game 6* Sunday, June 10 – Golden Knights at Capitals, 8 p.m. ET (NBC)
Game 7* Wednesday, June 13 – Capitals at Golden Knights, 8 p.m. ET (NBC)
* = If necessary

MORE:
NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line atphtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Ovechkin, Capitals headed to Stanley Cup Final after Game 7 triumph

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Alex Ovechkin will get his chance.

The Great 8 will contest for the Stanley Cup after his Washington Capitals defeated their past demons and the Tampa Bay Lightning 4-0 in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final on Wednesday.

Yes, the Capitals — a team that had to overcome a horrific playoff record against the Pittsburgh Penguins in the second round and then had to deal the disappointment of beginning the Conference Final with wins in Games 1 and 2 only to drop three straight to trail 3-2.

They took care of business in Game 6, and that train kept chugging along into Game 7.

Ovi put his stamp on Game 7 just 62 seconds in as he wired a one-timer past Andrei Vasilevskiy.

The first period was a wild affair, filled with scuffles, a fight and stolen jersey.

And then Andre Burakovsky arrived.

Burakovsky missed the first 12 games of the plays because of injury and then followed that up with seven games without a point.

He revealed earlier in the series that he lays a mental beating on himself too often. So Game 7 must have felt pretty good.

Burakovsky scored on two separate breakaways in the second period.

The first came off a brutal giveaway from Dan Girardi in his own zone. His second came after the Lightning got caught on a bad change.

Tampa looked like a shell of their former selves. They dusted themselves off after dropping the first two at home, but simply stopped scoring after the 33-second mark in the second period of Game 5.

[PHT’s Three Stars]

Braden Holtby showed up at precisely the right moment in the series, posting consecutive shutouts to close out the series.

Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov, meanwhile, were far from brilliant. No one over the last seven periods and change was on the Lightning.

The Lightning went 159:33 without scoring. Ouch.

You can’t win games when you don’t score, something the Lightning will have all summer to ponder. They led the NHL with 296 goals this season, all of which means sweet nothing now.

And now the attention turns to one of the more intriguing Cup Finals in a long time.

One of the greatest players of all-time with a chance to win his first Cup silence his critics after years of disappointment against the best story in sports, period.

Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final begins Monday, May 28 at 8 p.m. ET on NBCSN.

In the words of Bart Scott, “Can’t wait.”

MORE:
NHL Playoffs 2018: Stanley Cup Final TV Schedule

Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck