Nearly three weeks ago, the Washington Capitals’ franchise pillars Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom left North America to pursue an Olympic dream. They returned to the ice at the team’s practice facility Tuesday after what turned out to be an Olympic nightmare.
Ovechkin, the face of the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, received much of the blame for Russia’s elimination in the quarterfinals and later learned his father had suffered a heart attack in the Black Sea resort that required immediate surgery.
Backstrom still does not know whether he will receive his silver medal after being scratched from Sweden’s gold medal game against Canada on Sunday after violating the International Olympic Committee’s anti-doping rules.
The challenge for both players now is to find a way to move on from their Olympic disappointments, because the Capitals, who sit one point out of the playoffs but 11th in the Eastern Conference, will need Ovechkin and Backstrom at the top of their games to reach the postseason for a seventh consecutive year.
“I think they’re going to move forward fine. They’re both professionals,” Capitals Coach Adam Oates said. “What happened is very difficult. Ovi’s country was the host country with huge expectations, and their team didn’t play very well, and in a short window of time that can happen. And Backy’s situation is borderline unfair. . . . But it’s our job to get him through it and to get him to focus on the Washington Capitals for the rest of the year.”
Their initial meetings with reporters at the Capitals’ practice facility offered a look at two players handling their setbacks in different ways, though.
Ovechkin offered perhaps a stronger indication that Sochi won’t linger with him as he laughed and joked about his jet lag. His father, Mikhail, is doing well after undergoing heart surgery on Feb. 16. Mikhail traveled home to Moscow with Ovechkin’s mother and brother Tuesday, easing some of the forward’s concerns.
While Ovechkin wasn’t happy Russia did not play better in Sochi, he made it clear he’s turning his focus back to the NHL.
“This is my third Olympics that we didn’t get success. In Vancouver [in 2010] it was tough loss, and this is a very tough loss for me and for Russia, but I’m almost 30,” Ovechkin said. “I have to handle it. I have to fight through it.”
Barbs from NBC television analysts Mike Milbury and Jeremy Roenick, Colorado Avalanche Coach and Hall of Famer Patrick Roy and Russian Coach Zinetula Bilyaletdinov, among others, about him only scoring one goal in five games didn’t seem to faze Ovechkin.
“It’s just situation when my job to score goals, and I didn’t score lots of goals out there. I score one on my first shot and that’s it,” Ovechkin said. “Of course the most criticism I’m going to have is [how] I’m going to criticize me. I have chances. I have moments to score the goals, I play with great players out there but I didn’t [score].”
Backstrom was visibly upset as he discussed testing positive for a banned substance that is found in his allergy medication. He reiterated that he took one tablet of Zyrtec-D, an allergy medication he has used for seven years, each day during the Olympics after being told by the Swedish team doctor that he could continue to take the drug. Zyrtec-D contains pseudoephedrine, which is prohibited by the IOC above 150 micrograms per milliliter. Backstrom’s test results showed 190.
Pseudoephedrine is not on the NHL list of banned substances.
“Who do I blame? Well, I followed the doctor's recommendation,” Backstrom said, adding that it may take two weeks for the IOC to conclude its investigation and determine whether he will receive his silver medal.
“Obviously, it’s not fun to deal with. I don’t wish no one to have to go through this, if I’m going to be honest with you. It’s not fun,” Backstrom said. “But I’ve got to look forward to play the next game on Thursday. I’ve got to focus on Washington right now.”
The Capitals need the full attention of Ovechkin and Backstrom. They’re one of six teams within three points of each other vying for the final wild-card spot in the East, but don’t own the tiebreaker against any of the others and face one of the toughest remaining schedules in the league.
Ovechkin sounded ready to embrace that challenge.
“I think the Washington Capitals have to improve. We been in the playoffs [six] years and we losing in the first round or second round. That’s our goal, all organization, to move forward,” Ovechkin said. “We’re going to fight and we’re going to see what’s going to happen. We have such good group of guys who can handle the pressure who can fight through it and we’re going to do it.”