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Ovechkin's redemption began in Sin City


Ovechkin's redemption began in Sin City

It is only fitting that Alex Ovechkin is back in Las Vegas this week, once again basking in the spotlight of another dominant season with the Capitals.

The 29-year-old captain is up against Montreal Canadiens goaltender Carey Price and Islanders captain John Tavares for the Hart Trophy as the NHL’s MVP. He’s also up against Price and Dallas Stars forward Jamie Benn for the Ted Lindsay Award, given by the players to the league’s Most Outstanding Player.

Both awards will be handed out during Wednesday night’s NHL Awards dinner in Las Vegas.

Fittingly, it was in Vegas a year ago that Ovechkin and Barry Trotz began a relationship built on mutual trust and respect.

“I met him in Vegas for the NHL awards,” Trotz recalled. “We spent probably four or five hours. I had about 45 or 50 questions.”

Trotz wanted to know everything about his captain. From what he thought made a good teammate to whether he preferred playing left wing or right wing.

Always an elite goal scorer, Ovechkin was coming off a season in which he scored a league-high 51 goals but was a career-worst minus-35 and had missed the playoffs for the first time in seven years.

“Really, what I told him is that I wanted him to be more active,” Trotz said. “I thought he had too much glide in his game. When I was in the other conference we talked about how he wasn’t skating and how easy he is to cover.”

Ovechkin took the criticism to heart and worked all season to become a better two-way player. He back-checked like he meant it, threw bone-jarring hits in all three zones and played with the kind of fury that made his teammates want to play the same way.

As a result, Ovechkin led the NHL with 53 goals, 25 power-play goals, 11 game-winning goals and 395 shots while finishing a respectable plus-10.  But was it enough for him to beat out Price, Tavares and Benn for two of the most coveted individual awards in hockey?

Ovechkin has won the Hart and the Lindsay three times each. Here’s a statistical look at his rivals:

Carey Price, Montreal Canadiens: Price led the Canadiens to their best regular season since 1988 while leading the NHL in wins [44], goals-against average [1.96] and save percentage [.933]. He actually received an informal vote from Trotz late in the season and has the chance to become the third goalie in 50 years to win the Hart. Former Caps goalie Jose Theodore did it with the Habs in 2002 and Dominik Hasek did it with the Sabres in 1997 and 1998. This is Price's first Hart Trophy nomination.

John Tavares, New York Islanders: Tavares had the most productive season of his career, setting career highs in goals [38] and points [86]. He finished second behind Benn in the scoring race and helped the Islanders to their best regular season in more than two decades. This is his third nomination for the Hart.

Jamie Benn, Dallas Stars: Benn needed a hat trick and a four-point game in his final game of the regular season to finish first in the NHL in scoring [87 points].  He set career highs in points, goals [35] and assists [52] . He was tied for first in the NHL in even strength points [59], third in points-per-game [1.06] and 11th in average ice-time among all forwards [19:56]. It’s his first nomination for the Ted Lindsay Award.

MORE CAPITALS: You won't 'beliebe' who Ovechkin met in Vegas

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How the Caps won their first round series against the Columbus Blue Jackets

How the Caps won their first round series against the Columbus Blue Jackets

Things did not look good for the Capitals after two games.

Facing a 0-2 series hole after losing both games in Washington, it looked like it could be an early summer. The Caps were going to be the first team to ever lose a series in the playoffs to the Columbus Blue Jackets.


But the Caps rallied.

Washington won the next four games and turned what looked like it would be another postseason disaster into a postseason triumph.

Only once in franchise history had the Caps rallied from a 0-2 deficit and only once had the Caps won four straight games to win a series. They managed both against the Blue Jackets.

Here's how the Caps were able to rally to a first-round victory over Columbus.

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Was Columbus' travel a factor in the Caps' series comeback?

Was Columbus' travel a factor in the Caps' series comeback?

Whenever a playoff series ends, the analysis begins soon after. Why did this team win? Why did this team lose? Why did this player perform while this one did not?  This is an exercise performed by media, players and coaches alike, especially for teams that walk away from a series believing they let an opportunity slip away.

The Columbus Blue Jackets fell to the Washington Capitals in six games despite taking a 2-0 series lead by winning both opening games in Washington. Head coach John Tortorella will have all summer to think about what he could have done differently and what went wrong for his team, but it sounds like he already has at least one theory as to why they lost.

In a series that featured four overtime games, Game 4 stands out as being far more one-sided than the others. Washington turned in the most dominant performance of the series in a 4-1 win that knotted the teams at two wins apiece.

That game stood out to Tortorella too and he thinks he knows why the Blue jackets laid an egg that night: Travel.

"I think we should’ve stayed in Washington after that second overtime game, the second game there," Tortorella said. "I think that comes back and gets you later on in the series. We should’ve stayed in Washington and let them get a good night sleep. They got in here so late. I don’t think it affected us in Game 3. It comes the next days, so that falls on me."

When analyzing why the Caps won the series, chances are travel is not going to be a reason many people consider. Perhaps there is some merit to this. After all, as the father of an infant, I can certainly vouch for how much of a difference one good night of sleep can make.

But perhaps there is another message being sent here by Tortorella.

Tortorella is a master at using the media to his advantage. He uses the media to send messages to his team or draw attention on himself and away from the players.

Tortorella just saw his young team give up a 2-0 series lead and lose four straight games. Those are the kind of losses that can stick with a player and create doubt in the mind of a team the next time they reach a tough spot in the postseason.

So what did Tortorella do? He came out and put the worst loss of the series on his own shoulders. Why was it his fault? Yeah, let's go with travel.

The Blue Jackets are not the first team to play overtime on the road or the first team to deal with travel concerns. To hear a coach say it was a reason they lost a game and not even the next game after the travel? Well, that's a first.