Twenty-one years ago Mark Messier stood in front of cameras and microphones and guaranteed a New York Rangers victory in Game 6 of the 1994 Eastern Conference Finals.
The next night he recorded a hat trick to lead the Rangers to a 4-3 victory over the New Jersey Devils at the Meadowlands, tying the series and setting up an historic Game 7 victory in Madison Square Garden.
That’s the context that will be drawn after Alex Ovechkin's bold prediction that the Capitals will win Game 7 in New York on Wednesday night after blowing a 3-1 series lead against the Rangers.
Following Sunday night’s 4-3 loss at Verizon Center, which evened the conference semifinals at three wins apiece, Ovechkin told reporters, “We’re gong to come back and win the series.”
As you might expect, Ovechkin’s prediction created a Mother’s Day firestorm, with the New York Daily News calling him “cocky” and Rangers fans calling him things their mothers’ probably wouldn’t approve.
Capitals coach Barry Trotz? He said he “loved it.”
“I saw that and that’s what leaders do,” Trotz said Monday. “Leaders say this is what we need to do, this is what we’re going to do. I think I have a lot more respect for someone who will be bold enough to say, ‘I’m the leader of the hockey team. We’re going to go there and give our best game and go out and win a hockey game.’ I’d rather have that than a leader going, ‘Well, we’re going there to lose.’ I mean, come on.
“I love that. I love that a player has got the wherewithal to say, ‘Hey, we’re going to go there and we’re going to go after them and we’re going to leave it out there. I have a lot of respect for players that say that. And anybody who doesn’t have respect for that I think is fooling themselves.
“Not one player that I know is going to say we’re going there to lose. I have a lot of respect for all the players who have said, ‘Hey, we’re going to Game 7 to win the hockey game because that’s the mindset you need to have. If you don’t have that you might as well pack your bags.”
But do the Capitals need to hear such bold talk from their 29-year-old captain, who has two goals and three assists in eight career Game 7s?
“I don’t know if we needed to hear it," Trotz said, "but here’s your captain who says, ‘Hey, we’re going there and let’s go there and do it.’ I have a lot of respect for that. I’d rather have that than no one say anything and cower and put their eyes down and not look you in the face, or cower from anything that might be considered bold or controversial. You want players to feel that way. I’m OK with it.”
Trotz said it is nothing new for Ovechkin to attract the spotlight with his comments, even if others perceive it as a negative one.
“Ovi’s OK with that,” Trotz said. “Ovi’s done that his whole career. I’ve just gotten to know him this year, but his whole career he’s said stuff. Every year he says stuff that is bold and he backs it up, usually.
“He’s been one of the best goal scorers in this decade. People say, ‘We can stop him. We can do this or we can do that.’ You can stop him for a bit, but every year I look up and he’s got 50-60 goals every year.”
Trotz was asked if this could be a defining moment in Ovechkin’s career. After all, his teams are 3-5 in Game 7s during his career and he’s never been to a conference final.
“I don’t know if one game can, but it helps the legacy,” Trotz said. “We always make things bigger than they really are. It’s like calling a home run shot. Everybody remembers it, but is that pure luck or is that skill? I don’t know. But we’ll write about it, we’ll talk about it. I’ll tell my kids, you’ll tell your kids and it’ll be bigger and bigger, like the fishing story when the fish was that long.”
Or, perhaps, like the Mark Messier guarantee of 1994, which is credited for the push the Rangers needed to win their first Stanley Cup in 54 years.
“They backed it up,” Trotz said. “They won the game. That’s what leaders do. And they got it done. Mark’s such a great leader. He’s proven that for decades with the Oilers and the Rangers. He called the shot and he backed it up. It’s famous now. So who knows?”