COLUMBUS, Ohio — Alex Ovechkin stood in the hallway outside the visitors’ locker room at Nationwide Arena and decided to double down. After the Washington Capitals’ 5-4 overtime loss Sunday night, Ovechkin said the team would be back in its home arena for a Game 5, and the best-of-seven series would be tied at that point. Then in an interview with reporters here on Tuesday morning, Ovechkin, unprompted, repeated himself.
“How I said after the second game, we’re going to come home for Game 5, and for Game 5 it’s going to be tied,” Ovechkin said.
Washington’s halfway there, winning Game 3 in double overtime on Tuesday to at least force a Game 5. Call it confidence from the team captain that the Capitals would win the next two games against the Blue Jackets, or call it the ol’ sports “guarantee.”
There are many examples across professional sports, but perhaps the most famous in hockey came in 1994, New York Rangers captain Mark Messier vowed his team would come back from a 3-2 series deficit and beat the New Jersey Devils in Game 6; the Rangers went on to win the Stanley Cup. Similar pledges have become increasingly common, criticized when they don’t pan out and celebrated when they do.
This isn’t the first time Ovechkin has matter-of-factly said his team will win in the playoffs.
“As he should,” Columbus forward Thomas Vanek said. “If we’re down, it doesn’t matter what team you’re on, I think your mind-set is to win the next game. I’m sure a few of us heard it in here. But again, he believes in his team, we believe in our team. We believe that we’re going to win tonight. So no, there’s nothing there from that standpoint on.”
Let’s look at Ovechkin’s track record:
- 2015, vs. Rangers in second round: Ovechkin vowed that the Capitals would win Game 7. Washington had been up three games to one in the series before losing the next two games. Then Ovechkin said: “We’re going to come back and win the series. We’re going to play our game, and we’re going to come back and we’re going to play Montreal or Tampa.” Ovechkin scored in Game 7, but the Capitals lost.
- 2011, vs. Lightning in second round: “It’s not over,” Ovechkin said after the Capitals fell behind three games to none. “We’re not going to give up. We’re going to win.” Washington was swept.
- 2009, vs. Penguins in second round: “Next game is going to be different,” Ovechkin said with his team trailing three games to two. “It’s not over yet. If somebody thinks it’s over, it’s not over. We’re going to come back here again. Game 7.” Ovechkin had three assists in a Game 6 overtime win, but Washington lost in Game 7.
Ovechkin’s confidence in the playoffs isn’t all that different from any other time. On the first day of training camp before this season, when expectations for the Capitals far lower expectations than in recent years, Ovechkin said, “We’re not going to be suck.” True enough, Washington won the Metropolitan Division for a third straight season, overachieving by some standards.
Ovechkin has two power-play goals and two assists through the first four games of this first-round series, but the Blue Jackets’ top line has outplayed Washington’s, which features center Evgeny Kuznetsov, right wing Tom Wilson and Ovechkin. Columbus’s top trio, centered by 19-year-old rookie Pierre-Luc Dubois, has four even-strength goals, while Washington’s first line has just one. The Capitals will need more contributions from their top-six forward corps to prove Ovechkin right this time.
“That just shows confidence that we’re confident we can do it,” Coach Barry Trotz said. “But you can say it as much as you want, now you’ve got to back it up. And we’ve got to back it up.”
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