NEW YORK – Rangers fans take their hockey – and their heroes – seriously.
So when Capitals coach Barry Trotz dropped comparisons between Alex Ovechkin and Mark Messier into his daily conversations with the media during the Caps’ second-round payoff series against the Rangers, fans in the Big Apple thought he was out of line.
Messier, after all, has won six Stanley Cups and was deemed New York’s Messiah after leading the Rangers to their first Stanley Cup in 54 years in 1994.
But when Ovechkin boldly said Sunday night that the Caps would come back to beat the Rangers in Game 7 in Madison Square Garden, well, that bordered on hypocrisy to Rangers fans because Messier made a similarly legendary boast 21 years ago, one which he backed up with a season-saving hat trick against the Devils.
So what’s the headline today in the New York Post?
“Talk’s cheap! Alex Ovechkin, Capitals come up short – again”
Yes, they did.. But while the Capitals’ 2-1 overtime defeat in Game 7 Wednesday night might make for headline fodder, it’s hard to pin the blame on the Capitals’ 29-year-old lightning rod of a captain.
“I think my top guys delivered,” Capitals coach Barry Trotz told the assembled media late Wednesday night. “All my top guys delivered.
“Alex, Backy, they all delivered. They were great today. They grew up. They grew today.
“I know people went after Alex for saying what he did. I love to go into a fox hole with guys that will stick their neck out and say, ‘You know what? I’m going to deliver for you.’ And he did. He was really strong. He got our goal.”
Ovechkin logged 21:47 of ice time and it would have been more had the Caps not taken three straight penalties, including a game-changing cross-checking penalty to Mike Green that resulted in Kevin Hayes’ game-tying power play goal.
In his 30 shifts, Ovechkin recorded six shots on goal, with another three missing the net, along with three hits. His goal third goal of the series and fifth of the playoffs was a snipe over Henrik Lundqvist’s catching glove and gave the Caps the early lead 12:50 into the game.
“I thought we had great momentum in the first period,” Trotz said. “Second period, we can’t start the period with six minutes in penalties. We had one failed clear and it ended up in the back of the net. In the third period I thought we were fine [outshot 9-6] and in the overtime we were good. We’ll move forward. In Game 7s we’re 1-1 with this group and we’ll try to build our record from there.”
Of course, Trotz’s view is his own. He wasn’t around to witness six Game 7 defeats during the Ovechkin era. He didn’t feel the pain of winning a Presidents’ Trophy, only to be bounced in the first round of the 2010 playoffs.
“I think that goes away,” Trotz said. “They’ve had some disappointment, but I think they recognize they played a different style. They played playoff hockey and our team is evolving.
“You look at the growth of Backstrom and Ovi just in this last game. They put themselves out there and I don’t know if they would have done that in the past. I’m seeing young men mature. I’ve seen them mature not only as hockey players but also as people and leaders and they still have a lot of good hockey left in them.”
Ovechkin turns 30 in four months. Backstrom turns 28 in November. Jason Chimera is 36, Joel Ward is 34 and Brooks Orpik will be 35 at the start of next season.
The window of opportunity for Ovechkin and his teammates remains open, but now seemed like a good time for a hero.