Every so often, a sports broadcast gets fixated on a single character from the crowd and shows that person’s reaction incessantly, after every moment good and bad, during every timeout, during every climactic moment.
Maybe it’s a coach’s wife or husband. Maybe it’s a player’s parents or children. Maybe it’s Bradley Beal, after he has fouled out during a playoff game. Maybe it’s Bill Murray or Rudy Giuliani or Drake. Almost always, this is annoying. Almost always, viewers will say, “Why won’t they stop showing Mickie Krzyzewski, or Bill Murray or Drake?”
Here is an exception: At some point during this playoff run, NBC’s camera people decided they would start showing Alex Ovechkin’s reaction incessantly, after every moment good and bad, during every timeout, during every climactic moment. And people can’t get enough of these reactions.
“I love it,” said longtime local hockey analyst Alan May, who like me, has been captivated by this development. “It’s childlike, and I’m saying that in a good way. That’s just a guy that loves it all, that is living and dying in every moment here. For people who said this guy doesn’t care, tell me that type of reaction is not caring. It’s over the top, man. It just blows me away. I’ve always felt like he gives his all, and just to see it now, it’s so much on display. … It’s like everything’s been unleashed. He’s just laying it all on the line now. He’s not holding anything back, ever since Game 6 against Pittsburgh. The way he grabbed that [Prince of Wales] trophy, carried it out of the airplane, marched to his car. I just think we’re getting to see this guy at his greatest emotionally. It’s phenomenal hockey, yeah, but he’s unleashing it. It’s beautiful.”
And those reactions are just drilling down one of the major story lines of this postseason run: Ovechkin’s legacy is different now, whatever happens next. He has been too consistently brilliant in these playoffs for any of the old nonsense to persist. His team is playing too consistently well for anyone to worry about leadership or commitment or desire. Mike Milbury loves him. Random Canadian fans watching in Manitoba or Nova Scotia love him. Caps fans certainly love him. No one sees this playoff stretch as a referendum on Jay Beagle or Matt Niskanen or even Nicklas Backstrom, really. But it’s been a referendum on Ovechkin, and he’s winning in a runaway.
So these reaction shots have offered a minute-by-minute look at someone who is distilling the emotion of every single moment into its purest form. He takes post-goal joy and turns it into post-goal ecstasy; he takes post-miss frustration and turns it into post-miss agony; he takes a near-miss and turns it into life’s most harrowing escape.
“His postseason reactions, however you want to characterize them, have been almost as entertaining as what’s happening on the ice,” wrote USA Today’s Hemal Jhaveri.
“As great as Ovechkin has been on the ice, his reaction shots on the bench in this series have been even better,” wrote longtime NHL writer Dimitri Filipovic.
“Ovechkin’s bench reactions gonna win Conn Smythe,” joked CBS Sports’s Pete Blackburn.
The crowd going bonkers is great. But Ovechkin going bonkers is better.
“I grew up in Edmonton,” May told me. “Mark Messier, when guys scored goals, I always said it was like a party every time. He was so happy. His reaction to other guys scoring was better or the same as when he scored, and I feel like Ovi [is the same]. It’s just childlike happiness. The celebrations, when guys score, when you watch him on the bench, when you watch him with them on the ice, it’s hard to tell who scored. I just think it’s amazing to see. … That much passion, at this age, and he’s this far into it. Just look at how he’s playing. It’s a guy that loves the game.”
Would it all be quite so charming without Ovechkin’s 14 goals, without the diving stabs at the puck and the relentless checking and the blocked shots and the rest? Of course not. But when you combine the on-ice performance with all those “this-is-the-greatest-thing-that-has-ever-happened-in-the-universe” bench reactions?
All I’m saying is, if NBC wants to keep showing me Ovechkin’s reaction to every single second of the game, I wouldn’t complain.
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