Alex Ovechkin overcame plenty of heartbreak to become a Stanley Cup champion

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LAS VEGAS — During Alex Ovechkin’s first year in the NHL he was swimming at the house of Washington Capitals owner Ted Leonsis. As the boss and his newly-drafted future superstar hung out, Leonsis told Ovechkin that one day they would be celebrating a Stanley Cup together. 

Ovechkin was still new to the league, didn’t quite know the entire organization just yet, but he shared that dream with Leonsis. Little did they know it would take nearly 15 years from Ovechkin’s draft day for it to finally become a reality.

“I knew he wants it so bad and this organization wants it so bad. It’s nice to be part of it,” Ovechkin said. “It’s nice to be in this organization, all 13 years or 14, whatever. It was a tough time, but we fight through it and we get results.”

[Capitals end DC championship drought with first Stanley Cup win]

From 2007, when Ovechkin’s Capitals first made the playoffs, through 2017, they won three Presidents’ Trophies and seven division titles. But the most important number was zero, as in the number of times they advanced beyond the second round. Six times they were ousted by either the New York Rangers or Pittsburgh Penguins. Twice they blew 3-1 series leads. It became an inevitability: Regular season success would lead to crushing playoff defeat.

The lack of success and the burden to carry the Capitals to a championship would fall on Ovechkin’s shoulders. He was the superstar. He was the one making the most money. The team’s biggest rival, the Pittsburgh Penguins, won three Cups since 2005-06, when Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby entered the league. As the expectations soared, the disappointments kept piling up until this season when many gave up hope of them ever winning.

This was a different season, for sure. The Capitals cruised to another division title. Ovechkin scored 49 goals. But the pressure wasn’t there entering the postseason. The Nashville Predators, Winnipeg Jets and even the surprising Vegas Golden Knights were the sexy picks out of the Western Conference, while some backed the Penguins for a three-peat or even the Tampa Bay Lightning.

The only expectation some had with the Capitals was that they would fail again. When they fell behind 0-2 to the Columbus Blue Jackets in the first round, a familiar feeling was creeping in. But this team didn’t wilt facing the task of regrouping and pulling off a comeback. Ovechkin, with help from Evgeny Kuznetsov, helped carry the team offensively and change a lot of narratives.

“I think there were a lot of series where maybe Washington got eliminated, [Ovechkin] had great series,” said defenseman Brooks Orpik, who joined the Capitals from the Penguins in 2014. “He probably took the brunt of the criticism just because he’s the captain and the highest paid guy. I think a lot of guys feel for him in that situation. If you watched the reaction of his teammates when he got the Cup, that speaks volumes about how guys feel about him. He’s a very unique captain — probably never find a guy like him. But he’s a guy who leads in a very unique way, but he definitely pulls guys into the fight.”

The desire to do everything possible to win was evident in every Ovechkin shift this postseason. When he wasn’t scoring one of his 15 goals, he was playing a committed defensive game, even dropping down to block shots. Whatever it took. Every goal, even if it didn’t come off his stick, resulted in a release of emotion never seen before — emotions that grew stronger and stronger as the win totals moved toward that special No. 16.

“When your captain is doing everything it takes, guys follow the leader. He’s not the only one,” said defenseman John Carlson. “There’s plenty of others that have stepped up and done amazing things at big points in time. But when your leaders does those things, it gives a huge morale boost to the rest of us and we all want to win for each other.”

“It’s a huge statement by him. This is one of his better years that he’s played overall,” said Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan. “I think he’s played a better team game the whole year. He’s been more of a leader the whole year. You see him in the playoffs this year, he’s our best player — blocking shots, playing good in the D-zone, playing good in the neutral zone. When he’s doing them it makes everyone else want to do them, too.”

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Now the NHL story of Alex Ovechkin is now complete. He has a Conn Smythe Trophy and a Stanley Cup to go along with his three Hart Trophies, three Ted Lindsay Awards and seven Rocket Richard Trophies. There’s no more He’s a great player, but… to follow him around for the rest of his career, one that will see plenty of records shattered and maybe even another title.

Ovechkin wanted this victory for himself and for his team. It’s been a long road to get there and it showed each time he raised the Cup over his head and showed off that big, toothless smile.

The weight is off his shoulders. He’s a Stanley Cup champion.

“It’s even better. It’s just like a dream,” said Ovechkin. “It was a hard, long season. We fight through it. We worked so hard through all the years and we were together. It was a whole one team, stick with the system and it doesn’t matter what happened, even after the [second] period, we knew we just have to push it and get the result done. That’s it.

“I can’t explain the way I feel. It’s unbelievable.”

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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.

The Buzzer: Hart wins in debut, Bishop leaves, returns in shutout

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Three stars

1. Ben Bishop (and Anton Khudobin), Dallas Stars

Bishop and his backup edge Hart here due to the fact that Bishop got run over by Calgary Flames forward Garnet Hathaway, forcing him to leave the game in the second period with the Stars up 1-0.

Khudobin held down the fort while Bishop was getting checked out to close out the second period.

Bishop would only miss about six-and-a-half minutes as he led Dallas back onto the ice in the third and resumed where he left off. The duo combined for 24 saves for the shutout as Dallas won 2-0, making some history in the process.

2. Carter Hart, Philadelphia Flyers

Hart made history as he stepped onto the ice in his NHL debut, becoming the Flyers’ sixth goalie to appear in their first 35 games. That’s not a great record to hold, but he’ll be in the annals of hockey history for a while, I’d imagine.

History or not, Hart was solid in his inauguration. He turned aside 20 saves as he and newly-minted head coach Scott Gordon picked up their first wins at their respective positions.

Hart is facing a lot of pressure here. He’s dubbed as the future in Philly and for good reason. Some call the City of Brotherly Love a graveyard for goaltenders. Perhaps Hart can buck the trend. Who knows.

For now, he’s certainly earned another start.

3. Martin Jones, San Jose Sharks

An all-goalie lockout in the three stars tonight finishes with Jones.

The Sharks netminders earned his first shutout of the season, making 26 saves for career goose egg No. 20. Jones’ save percentage this season has left a bit more to be desired, so Tuesday’s effort was a good refresher for fans on what he’s capable of.

San Jose has now won five in a row as they continue their ascent to the top of the Pacific Division.

Other notable performances: 

Highlights of the night

As advertised, this is a nice goal:

Luuuuu:

Given how the Flyers crease situation has played out this season, Gritty may want to keep these goalies healthy:

Factoid

Scores

Panthers 5, Sabres 2

Maple Leafs 7, Devils 2

Rangers 3, Ducks 1

Flyers 3, Red Wings 2

Sharks 4, Wild 0

Blackhawks 2, Predators 1

Stars 2, Flames 0

Blues 4, Oilers 1

Islanders 3, Coyotes 1

Lightning 5, Canucks 2

Kings 4, Jets 1


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

Tempers flare, penalty parade ensues between Lightning, Canucks

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Who knew the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Vancouver Canucks harbored so much hate for one another?

Wherever it came from, the apparent bad blood between the two teams was certainly flowing at a steady pace on Tuesday night in Vancouver.

Things were going well until around the 12-minute mark of the second period. It was then that Antoine Roussel landed a big hit on Lightning star Yanni Gourde.

Gourde, not impressed with being turnbuckled, took exception and the two squared off. He got five for fighting and a 10-minute misconduct. Roussel was assessed two for roughing and five for fighting.

From there, Canucks defenseman was forced out of the game after an apparent head shot from Lightning forward Danick Martel.

Martel was skating back through the neutral zone when he saw that Stecher had the puck near the boards. The hit looked innocuous at first, but replays showed that Martel seemed to extend his shoulder into Stecher’s head.

Stecher left the game and the Canucks said he wouldn’t return.

With tempers already boiling, things got completely out of hand with under a minute left in the period.

Lightning forward Cedric Paquette took a run at Canucks forward Elias Pettersson, a no-no, and all hell broke loose as the two lines on the ice brawled.

Paquette received two for roughing and five for fighting. Canucks d-man Ben Hutton, who can be seen below throwing bombs, also got a fighting major.

In total, 14 penalties were doled out, with those adding up to 48 minutes in the second period alone.

Quite the game, one that Tampa won 5-2 in the end.


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

Blackhawks put in complete performance in 2-1 win against Predators

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Nothing has really gone right for the Chicago Blackhawks as of late.

The firing of Joel Quenneville and hiring of Jeremy Colliton hasn’t done much to rekindle the club’s glory days.

They had actually won more games (six) under Quenneville than they have under the new guy (four) coming into Tuesday’s game.

Corey Crawford, perhaps their ray of hope if he could get it together between the pipes, suffered another concussion this week and is out indefinitely.

Even their mascot, Tommy Hawk, hasn’t been immune to the frustrations in the Windy City.

So Tuesday’s 2-1 win at home at United Center against the mighty Nashville Predators on NBCSN, however insignificant it ends up being at the end of the season, was a welcomed change.

If recent history is to be believed, the Blackhawks might have even been slight favorites heading into the game.

Nashville began the season a perfect 8-0-0 outside of Tennessee, but have now lost eight in a row (0-6-2) since. They’re also pretty banged up, so that helped, too.

Despite Nashville’s shortcomings on the road this as of late, it shouldn’t take away from Chicago’s performance.

They played a tight, offensive-minded game, outshooting the Predators 36-31, including 16-7 in the second period as they erased Nashville’s 1-0 lead and replaced it with a 2-1 advantage of their own.

Any hope of the Blackhawks not falling further from grace rests in the hands of Cam Ward at this point.

With Crawford out, Ward will be leaned on to provide the best netminding he can.

On Tuesday, he did just that, turning aside 30 shots. Ward was especially solid in the third, including the last two-and-a-half minutes of the third after the Preds pulled Pekka Rinne for the extra attacker.

Other things that went well: Chicago’s last-ranked power play was 1-for-3, producing five shots on goal. Their last-ranked penalty kill was 2-for-2, allowing just two shots on goal.

It all equates on some good stuff to build on. It’s been a while since Chicago produced an effort like that. The blueprint is there.


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

Stars’ Bishop returns to game after taking shoulder to the head

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Dallas Stars fans were able to breathe a sigh of relief as the team came out for the third period on Tuesday.

Nearing the mid-way point fo the second period, Calgary Flames forward Garnet Hathaway went to challenge Bishop, who was playing the puck behind the net.

Bishop was able to move the puck to his defenseman but the incoming Hathaway’s shoulder caught him in the mask. The impact knocked Bishop over and he was slow to get up before being pulled from the game.

Here’s the hit:

Hathaway was given a two-minute minor for goaltender interference. Stars defenseman Roman Polak got a roughing minor after going after Hathaway following the hit.

Bishop stopped all nine shots he faced in the 33:37 he played. Anton Khudobin logged 6:23 in relief before Bishop led the Stars out for the third period.

Bishiop had a 10-8-1 record coming into Tuesday with a .920 save percentage. The Stars were leading 2-0 in the third.


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