ARLINGTON, Va. – Washington Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin knows full well that his playoff failures are adding up.
The two-time NHL MVP also knows what that means for the way people think about his career.
“Nobody remember losers,” the Russian wing said Tuesday. “Everybody remember only winners.”
During a 15-minute session with reporters a day after Washington’s 5-0 home loss to the New York Rangers in Game 7 ended their first-round Eastern Conference series, Ovechkin avoided putting the onus on himself for his team’s latest quick exit from the playoffs.
Against New York, he scored just once in seven games after leading the league with 32 goals in the regular season—including 23 in the final 23 games to lead Washington to the Southeast Division title.
Asked how frustrating it was to fail to put the puck in the net at all after scoring in Game 1, Ovechkin replied: “In the playoffs, it doesn’t matter if you score or not. You have to win. Team success is most important thing out there. … I didn’t score and we lose. I score, we lose. … Everybody have to make a difference.”
There is, though, a correlation between Ovechkin’s scoring and Washington’s success.
During this regular season and post-season, the Capitals won 20 of 25 games when he scored at least one goal, but only 10 of 30 when he did not.
Washington defenceman Karl Alzner acknowledged in a quiet locker room Monday night that “it’s hard to overcome” the kind of poor production Ovechkin had this post-season.
“We were very, very fortunate coming down the stretch that he was scoring almost every game. And if he wasn’t scoring, it was usually his shots that were setting up the next goal. And so you take it for granted, sometimes, when you kind of expect that it’s going to go in every time when he shoots the puck,” Alzner said. “And then (the) playoffs is just a different animal.”
Certainly is for Ovechkin and the Capitals. This is a team, for example, that earned the Presidents’ Trophy for most standings points in the league in 2010, but lost in the first round to the eighth-seeded Montreal Canadiens. A team that was swept in the second round in 2011. A team that wasted series leads of 2-0 and 3-2 against New York this season.
With Ovechkin, centre Nicklas Backstrom and defenceman Mike Green leading the way, the Capitals have played in nine playoff series—and won only three. They’ve never made it past the second round during that span. In seven Game 7s, they’re 2-5, including 1-4 at home.
Alzner’s been around for three postseasons. He was asked if he questions the club’s ability to make a deeper run.
“It’s funny you ask that,” Alzner began, with a bit of a chuckle. “A little bit.”
Hearing his own words, Alzner continued: “I don’t know if that’s the right mentality.”
And then he completed the thought: “I’m sure it’s not the right mentality.”
When a similar question was put to Ovechkin on Tuesday—does he harbour doubts about achieving significant success in the playoffs?—he returned to a theme he repeated often.
“It’s not, like, one player,” Ovechkin said.
He went on to acknowledge he made mistakes, but quickly noted that others did, too, and concluded: “One guy can’t win the championship.”
And yet Ovechkin made clear he thought one guy was responsible for the Rangers’ series victory: goalie Henrik Lundqvist, who shut out Washington in Games 6 and 7.
Was it really as simple as that? Lundqvist stole the series?
“In my mind, yeah,” Ovechkin answered. “In my mind, it was Lundqvist. They have great team, no doubt about it, but Lundqvist was unbelievable. Just unbelievable.”
Note: Ovechkin will leave to join Russia for the world championships. Making a reference to the fact that he’s engaged to 12th-ranked Maria Kirilenko, a Wimbledon quarterfinalist last year, Ovechkin said: “I don’t want to go watch tennis right now. I want to just play hockey and win.”
Follow Howard Fendrich on Twitter at http://twitter.com/HowardFendrich