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Mike Wise: Alex Ovechkin Needs to Get Going for Capitals to Defeat Rangers

Alex Ovechkin's first goal of the playoffs couldn't lead the Capitals past the Rangers, as Washington falls, 2-1, on Wednesday night and heads back home down 3-1.

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By Mike Wise
Thursday, April 23, 2009

NEW YORK

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It's not Alex Ovechkin's fault Henrik Lundqvist is so spectacular in goal. It's not Ovie's fault Alexander Semin is toying with the puck instead of just firing the dumb thing. It's certainly not his bad when a splendid, 20-year-old kid in net for Washington finally makes a boo-boo that matters.

But Ovie is the face of the Capitals, the most gifted force in the game who is hardly a reticent star while checking his flammable stick after a goal, celebrating beyond the allowable norms of old-school purists. His mug is on the buses. He's the one in the Hair Cuttery and Eastern Motors commercials, not Tom Poti or Viktor Kozlov.

And so if Washington ultimately goes down to a Rangers team it was picked to beat in five or six games by people who know a lot more about this game than I -- and that seems probable after Wednesday night's 2-1 loss at Madison Square Garden -- Alex Ovechkin also has to live with the knowledge that the best player in the NHL has yet to advance his team to the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.

For all of his intoxicating numbers and surreal goals, he hasn't been to the Eastern Conference semifinals. He has yet to accomplish what his peer, Cup finalist Sidney Crosby, is again on the verge of doing in Pittsburgh. You get the feeling Ovechkin would gladly trade two Hart Trophy awards for one second-round playoff appearance?

"You think this series is over?" he said coldly to a MSG Network host, whom Ovie felt implied the Capitals were going home after falling behind three games to one to New York. The manner in which he responded reflected everything about his ultra-competitive, we-will-not-lose demeanor, and in truth he did nearly everything he could to avert defeat in a jolting and increasingly intense Game 4.

In fact, at the exact moment the sentence, "Alex Ovechkin is going to win his second Hart Trophy in a row in June, but how long before he gets his first goal in this series?" was typed, Ovie managed to do just that.

A rocket, launched 30 to 35 feet from the net, catching a nearly flawless Lundqvist off guard, making the Garden groan loudly for the moment.

Yet the still maturing Russian known as the Great 8, smothered by blue jerseys since last Wednesday, had been less than zero in the scoring column up before that shot.

He is not on the precipice of becoming the Tracy McGrady of the NBA -- an all-star veteran whose team has never advanced past the first round. And it should be noted that LeBron James will have the ball in his hands many more times over 40-plus minutes of a 48-minute NBA game than Ovechkin would have the puck in 28 minutes of ice time of Game 4, less than half an NHL regulation game. (In point of fact, most keen observers of the Caps would say that might be five minutes too much ice time for Ovie.)

With almost 18 minutes left Wednesday night, the Capitals as urgent as they've been this season, about to fall behind by the same margin they should be up in this series, Ovie lit the lamp and pulled Washington to 2-1.


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