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NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman on Alex Ovechkin's pursuit of Wayne Gretzky's record: 'We're going to all enjoy the ride'

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman on Alex Ovechkin's pursuit of Wayne Gretzky's record: 'We're going to all enjoy the ride'

It wasn't so long ago that the Capitals were playing in front of a half-empty arena out in Landover, Md. If you told someone you were a fan of the Capitals, the frequent response was, who are they? Things have certainly changed. Perhaps no one knows that better than NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman.

More than ever, Washington is a hockey town and Bettman credits owner Ted Leonsis for much of that transformation.

"Under Ted Leonsis’ ownership, in particular, in terms of fan engagement and connectivity to the Capitals and to hockey, it has been extraordinary at all levels of the game - particularly to the youth hockey level," Bettman said.

But beyond just Leonsis, Bettman credits two major factors with the growth of the game in the Washington region.

Despite being one of the few cities that boasts a team in each of the four major sports, area fans went through a lengthy championship drought. Before 2018, you had to go back to 1998 for the last time a team from Washington even made it to a championship in the NHL, NBA, MLB or the NFL and back even further to Super Bowl XXVI in 1992 for when a team actually won. D.C. United did win an MLS Cup in 2004, but that was only the organization's ninth season.

For the Caps to break through that drought and finally bring a championship to D.C. was such an incredible moment for the city and one that will forever endear the Caps to sports fans throughout the DMV area.

"Bringing a championship to Washington, a city that can always use a unifying factor when other things are going on in the world," Bettman said. "I think the Caps have been great for the psyche of the city."

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Twenty years ago, the thought of thousands upon thousands of fans lining up in the street to watch the team play for the Stanley Cup was unthinkable, but that's because a certain gap-toothed forward had not yet brought the team out of the depths of obscurity.

In terms of growing interest in the game, the effect Alex Ovechkin has had on hockey in the region cannot be measured. He is the biggest sports star in Washington and one of the biggest sports stars in the world.

"He is just awesome," Bettman said. "When you think of how long he has been playing, how old he is and the shape he’s in and the skill that he brings to the game and intensity of the game, he’s just awesome."

Washington is not Montreal or Toronto. It doesn't hold the same place in the game as a city like Boston or Detroit does, nor do the fans live and breathe hockey the way other cities do. But the Caps have cemented their place in the history of the game by winning the Stanley Cup.

RELATED: CAPS GM BRIAN MACLELLAN SAYS CARLSON SHOULDN'T MISS GAMES WITH INJURY

Ovechkin is also one of the greatest players to play the game and his pursuit of Wayne Gretzky's goal record - a number once thought to be untouchable - will again bring Washington to the forefront of the hockey world.

But will he get there?

Said Bettman, "We’re going to all enjoy the ride, to find out."

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Alex Ovechkin's explanation for missing open net power play attempt in Game 2: 'Sh-t happens'

Alex Ovechkin's explanation for missing open net power play attempt in Game 2: 'Sh-t happens'

Things aren't looking too good for the Washington Capitals as they're already down 2-0 to the New York Islanders in the first round of the NHL Playoffs. The team became completely unglued in an ugly 5-2 loss in Game 2 Friday night and Caps star Alex Ovechkin had an extremely applicable response when reflecting on the poor performance. 

"Sh-t happens," Ovechkin said when asked about a poorly executed power-play attempt in which he hit the side of the net. 

The quote is all-encompassing. 

For the glass-half-full crowd, remember that 2018 series against the Columbus Blue Jackets? When Washington lost its first two games of the first-round series to the Columbus and rallied back to win it 4-2? Yup, they went on to win the Stanley Cup and all was forgiven. 

However, there are very few similarities between then and now. 

RELATED: WHY THIS YEAR IS DIFFERENT THAN 2018, OVECHKIN'S BIG GAME AND THE CAPS ARE IN TROUBLE

The Caps have to have a short memory and get right back on the horse as the puck drops for Game 3 on Sunday at noon. 

“We’ve just got to move on," Ovechkin said.

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Why this year is different than 2018, Ovechkin's big game and the Caps are in trouble

Why this year is different than 2018, Ovechkin's big game and the Caps are in trouble

The Capitals find themselves in a 2-0 series hole after an ugly 5-2 loss in Game 2 against the New York Islanders on Friday.

Check out a recap of the game here.

Observations from the loss

This is different than 2018

You are going to hear a lot of talk about 2018 until Sunday's game. With the Caps down 2-0 in the series, the comparisons are inevitable.

In 2018, Washington lost its first two games of the first round series to the Columbus Blue Jackets and rallied back to win it 4-2.

The problem is that in 2018, the Caps were the better team in both games. They had confidence they could win because they should have won both of those games, plus they got a confidence boost from starting Braden Holtby in Game 3. Philipp Grubauer had started Games 1 and 2. In 2020, they just look bad. Both losses were bad losses and, unless Nicklas Backstrom is ready to go for Sunday, they don't have anyone waiting in the wings that they can plug into the lineup to provide the same kind of spark.

Don't be fooled by the 2018 comparisons. This team is not going anywhere unless it dramatically improves its play from the first two games.

Coming unglued

If you wanted to encapsulate this game in a single moment, it was in the second period when Garnet Hathaway was called for boarding just 21 seconds after Washington gave up a breakaway, go-ahead goal to Brock Nelson in the second period. Hathaway was hauled off to the box by the linesman with his gloves off looking for someone to fight. It was one of five power plays Washington gave up on the night.  Jakub Vrana continued his rough postseason with an early slash and Tom Wilson hit Ryan Pulock before giving him an unnecessary elbow, which sent him to the box. The team also took two too many men penalties. In addition, New York's second goal came off a defensive zone turnover as Lars Eller was attacked by two forecheckers behind the net and no one reacted to give him a target to pass to. The game-winner was scored on a breakaway as Vrana tried to corral the puck at the offensive blue line with his back turned to the pressure. Brock Nelson stole it away to launch himself on the breakaway.

The Islanders deserve credit for the way they have played, but all of these are self-inflicted mistakes by the Caps who look like they have completely lost their composure.

RELATED: CAPITALS WERE THEIR OWN WORST ENEMY IN 'SELF-INFLICTED' 5-2 LOSS

They have to change something

After how badly the team has played in the first two games, you cannot come back with the same lineup for Game 3. Something has to change beyond just Backstrom returning - if he does in fact return. Whether this means changing lines, defensive pairs or putting in the black aces, the Caps cannot take a wait-and-see approach as they already trail 2-0.

Turning point

Alex Ovechkin had just scored his second of the game to tie it at 2. With the Caps in the offensive zone, Vrana grabbed the puck at the blue line and, with his back towards the goal, tried to swing around and pass the puck off. But with his back turned, Vrana did not see Brock Nelson coming. Nelson stole the puck away and was off to the races, scoring the breakaway goal just 15 seconds after Ovechkin tied the game.

That goal proved to be the game-winner. It was horrible puck management from Vrana who did not play again in the second period.

Play of the game

Ovechkin deflected in a shot from Brenden Dillon to tie the game at 2 in the second period, Ovechkin's second goal of the game.

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Stat of the game

Another milestone for Ovechkin who deserved one as he tried to single-handedly carry the team on his back.

Quote of the game

Despite how bad this game looked, Ovechkin very nearly tied it at 3 in the third period with an open net opportunity on a power play. He won't miss many of those, but this time he hit the side of the net. When asked about the miss after the game, he was blunt.


Fan predictions

Score was off, but you were right about Ovechkin and the Caps still losing.

Close. Let's hope you're right about the second part.

Three people sent me this exact same GIF so kudos to you, Ryan, for getting there first. And, unfortunately, you were right....

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