Another Chance to Play the Hero
They checked Alex Ovechkin hard midway through the third period, crunching his frame against the glass, popping him before he could go through the door to the bench, rest, regroup and punish the Philadelphia Flyers and their fragile psyches more.
He shrugged his shoulders, knowing he already had the best of this town and its tumbling team.
For no amount of physical pain could make up for what the most electrifying player in the NHL did to the Flyers and their jeering fan base Monday night in Game 6 of this gem of a first-round Stanley Cup playoff series. No cross-check or high stick could numb that psychological wound -- two lightning goals delivered by Ovechkin in the third period of the most important comeback by the Capitals this millennium.
Twenty years after Dale Hunter thrust Washington past a Flyers team in Game 7, after Philadelphia led that 1988 series three games to one, a young Russian dynamo has finally taken his place as the Caps' go-to scorer in the crucible.
Game 7 is, unbelievably, Tuesday night at Verizon Center, a game made possible by a stirring come-from-behind victory from two goals down in the second period, by a frustrated star who was held in check until he saved his best of the series for last. "Is this a satisfying win?" Ovechkin was asked, 11 days after he scored his last goal in the series, a month and nine days since Philly had lost on its home ice.
"It is because people don't believe us," he said. "Everyone said that we are a young team and then we won one and everybody said it's only one game and then it's done. It's not over yet. Tomorrow we have the biggest game in our career I think, and we don't stop with this. There is still the challenge to do it."
The dike that Philly had kept putting putty on, the offensive prowess of Ovechkin that had been bottled by Kimmo Timonen and a bevy of determined Flyers for all but one of the first five games? It burst in a blinding flash.
First, there was a pretty breakaway at 2 minutes 46 seconds of the third period, when Ovechkin froze Martin Biron, the Philadelphia goalie, with a little hesitation move left of the net and deposited the goal to the short side to put Washington ahead 3-2.
Then the closer, less artistry and more force, a onetime blast on the power play with 9:19 left in the game. As Ovechkin waited and waited to get untracked, hitting when he couldn't score -- yes, embellishing the contact when he was pushed off the puck -- many wondered whether he was experiencing the same first-year butterflies as Sidney Crosby in Pittsburgh a year ago.
But here the kid was in Game 6, needing to score -- needing to put a volume of shots on goal because nothing else seemed to be working. He came through brilliantly. His ungodly 13-year, $124 million contract doesn't kick in until next year, but Ovechkin was poised for criticism this postseason if he couldn't find the net again.