Capitals' Season Comes to an Unfitting Conclusion

The Washington Post's Mike Wise takes you behind the column at last night's season-ending game. Video by Atkinson & Co.
By Mike Wise
Thursday, May 14, 2009

The good people of Halifax -- the Great White North, in general -- can breathe easy this morning. Their no-frills golden child -- the savior of Canadian hockey, the cutting rebuttal to all the new-fangled showmanship Alex Ovechkin has suddenly corrupted their sport with -- is moving on.

Sid the Kid's sublime two-goal, three-point performance, especially that breakaway score to ensure a Game 7 rout early in the third period, brought so many knowing grins of satisfaction to the gatekeepers of puck purity. But not as much as seeing a look-at-me Russian showboat in bright red lose and go home. To Moscow -- or Mexico, for all they care.

Queen's Land 6, KGB 2.

Penguins-Capitals was never merely about a tremendous Stanley Cup series showcasing the NHL's brightest stars going the distance, one full of riveting theater until an abject dud of a Game 7.

No, to the hard-core traditionalists who view most uber-skilled players from overseas as little more than Euro trash, this was about validating their xenophobia.

Sidney Crosby, the quiet farm boy from Nova Scotia, won; his Pittsburgh team is going back to the Eastern Conference finals. Ovechkin, the YouTube demigod who once pretended his stick was on fire after a goal, got his just dessert.

Just as Julius Erving vs. Larry Bird, or Bird-Magic, penetrated socially deeper than basketball, to disturbing levels of racial and civic pride, so too does the first postseason chapter of Crosby-Ovechkin encompass larger issues, places where no one wants to go.

After two top-flight organizations and the last two league MVPs dueled the past 10 days, inoculating Gary Bettman's product from any lingering post-lockout concerns over interest in this bang-bang, fast and furious sport that is so enrapturing in person, a good number of extremists on both sides won't let go of their positions or their misguided feelings about Crosby and Ovechkin.

They get their keyboard courage up and fire off ugly screeds into the Internet ether, saying why they feel Ovechkin should just take a run at Crosby and hurt him permanently or why Crosby represents all that is right and good about hockey and Ovie, in the sentiment expressed by a reckless 17-year-old last week, should just die.

Look, they play hockey; they don't extort pensions or send kids to war in faraway places. Crosby got the better of Ovechkin in the decisive game of an ultra-compelling series. That's it.

In the handshake line after such an anticlimactic end to a six-month thrill ride, Ovechkin found Sergei Gonchar, the Penguin with whom he violently collided with earlier in the series, and spoke with him for a long while, letting him know how sorry he was for hurting him.

And Crosby and Ovechkin eventually found each other at center ice, Crosby having not just gotten the better of his rival in a deciding game but taking charge like only a young captain and clutch player can.

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