By MIKE HERNDON
What the hell is wrong with us? We can’t even let a man celebrate a championship, one for which he’d worked his whole career, for 48 hours without some killjoy in New York feeling the need to throw a bucket of bleach on the parade with something as stupid as this:
What, exactly, does then? Two championships? Three? What’s the magic number that marks the line between “loser” and “winner”?
New York Post columnist Larry Brooks even managed to dismiss the one title Ovechkin has now won by noting he and the Caps didn’t have to go through Henrik Lundqvist, who has won exactly zero Stanley Cups.
Yes, it took Ovechkin 13 years to finally hoist the Cup, and there were many humiliating playoff failures along the way. There were opening-round losses to the Flyers and Canadiens; second-round defeats to the Penguins and Lightning, and soul-crushing seven-game losses to Lundqvist’s Rangers in 2012, 2013 and 2015. Pittsburgh knocked the Caps out again in the second round in each of the last two years en route to two straight championships as Sidney Crosby laid claim to the title that might have been Ovechkin’s – best player in the NHL.
Meanwhile, Ovechkin’s leadership and commitment were questioned. A gifted scorer – he’s scored 50 goals or more six times and had 49 this season — he was dismissed as just another tunnel-visioned sniper who wouldn’t do the little things necessary in order to win. But in the Capitals’ five-game finals win over the Vegas Golden Knights, we saw him surrendering his body to block shots, hustling to help out his defensemen with a back-check, doing the little things, the big things, everything.
Was it an evolution of his game, a long-awaited realization that he had to do more than score goals? Or was it just that it took this long to finally pay off?
In a way, it was fitting that Ovechkin won his first Cup – and the first in Capitals franchise history – on June 7. Twenty-one years ago on that same date, another guy with a “ledger of losing” also hoisted the Cup for the first time – Steve Yzerman.
Like Ovi’s Caps, Stevie Y’s Red Wings scored a lot of goals and won a lot of games, but had earned a reputation for falling apart in the playoffs. Too soft, people said. Not tough enough to win when it counts.
And like Ovi, a lot of that came back on Yzerman. He was the captain, the transcendent talent who should have been one of the game’s greats except for that big hole in his resume – the lack of a ring. Like someone else we know, his leadership was questioned, his commitment considered lacking.
But 14 years after becoming the first 18-year-old to play in the All-Star Game as a rookie, Yzerman and the Wings finally won the franchise’s first Cup in 42 years with a sweep of the Flyers. Then they won it again the next year. And a few years later, they added a third title before The Captain retired in 2006.
Yzerman is now a Detroit sports icon, a Hall of Famer who is considered by many to be one of the best two-way forwards ever. His “ledger of losing” prior to 1997 is largely forgotten.
Perhaps it will be the same for Ovechkin. Or perhaps the Caps will again falter after this breakthrough and we’ll have to read more tripe like that in Saturday’s Post.
But Ovechkin’s name is on Lord Stanley’s Cup, and it cannot now be erased. He’s earned the right to celebrate – and you’d better believe he is, as the photos of him doing keg stands out of the Cup at a Nationals game will attest. He’s earned the right to be remembered as a champion.
(Top photo by Michael Miller/Wikimedia Commons. Bottom photo from Twitter)