Tracee Hamilton - Sports Columnist

Tracee Hamilton: Alex Ovechkin gets energized and so do the Washington Capitals in their victory over the Montreal Canadiens

After opening the playoffs with a loss to Montreal, the Caps look to rebound in Game 2 at Verizon Center.
By Tracee Hamilton
Sunday, April 18, 2010

Bruce Boudreau was answering questions during a post-Game 2 news conference on one half of the Washington Wizards' practice court at Verizon Center. From behind the curtain that divided the court came the sound of a bouncing basketball.

"Are the Wizards still playing?" he asked, deadpan.

No, coach, that would be your star players, Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom, rocking the rouge in red T-shirts, shorts and hats, killing time before it was their turn at the microphone.

Not surprisingly, Backstrom was shooting and Ovechkin was feeding him the ball. If it works on the ice, why not the hardwood?

Backstrom scored a hat trick Saturday night as the Capitals battled back to defeat the Montreal Canadiens, 6-5, in overtime. Ovechkin added a goal and three assists -- two on Backstrom goals.

No word on who won the postgame shootaround.

Nights like Saturday are what make Ovechkin perhaps the best player in the game, the spark, the linchpin, the straw that stirs the drink. When he's on, he can animate his teammates, his coach, 18,377 fans, and quite possibly the paintings across the street in the National Portrait Gallery.

Saturday, in the third period -- because why rush? -- Ovechkin finally found himself. With the Caps trailing, 4-2, Ovechkin scored his first goal of these playoffs, willing the puck between a mouse hole of space between Jaroslav Halak's pads.

You could feel the momentum change in much the same way you can feel a thumping bass beat in the pit of your stomach. Ovechkin then assisted on Backstrom's second goal of the game with a nifty little pass that the two perfected as the Caps racked up the most points in the NHL this season. And he assisted again when rookie John Carlson scored his first playoff goal with less than two minutes remaining to force overtime.

"He showed us why he is such a good player," Carlson said. "He's our captain and he's our best player. We need him to do that every night."

After Thursday night's performance, there were doubts about Ovechkin. He simply disappeared in Game 1. No goals, no points, not even a shot on goal, and he was the league leader in that category. I wasn't shocked because I'd seen him vanish before, in Vancouver, representing Russia at the Olympics. But I didn't expect to see it happen again this year.

But the really great players seldom, if ever, disappear for long. At Friday's practice, Ovechkin was clearly upset with himself. He knows his importance to the team and he understands what the "C" on his sweater means as well.

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