NHL: Ovechkin can’t wait for playoff debut
WASHINGTON ó It’s an hour after his team’s final regular-season game ends in victory, clinching his first NHL playoff berth, and Alex Ovechkin grabs one of the red T-shirts commemorating the Washington Capitals’ surprising Southeast Division title.
He pulls it over his shaggy mop of black hair. Over the scruffy beard teammates say makes him look like one of those Geico cavemen. Over his oft-broken nose. Over his dress shirt and striped tie. He puts on a suit jacket, pleased by his look, then sets about cajoling other players to don the Ts, too.
A giddy Ovechkin sees Capitals owner Ted Leonsis in the locker room. They throw their arms around each other in a sweet embrace.
“Nobody believed,” the $124 million employee whispers to the boss. “Nobody.”
It has been quite a transformation.
The Capitals went from 6-14-1 and 30th in the 30-team NHL on Thanksgiving Day to the No. 3-seeded club in the Eastern Conference playoffs, facing the Philadelphia Flyers in a series that begins Friday at Washington. Thanks to a season-closing seven-game winning streak ó and victories in 11 of their last 12 games ó not only will the Capitals return to the postseason for the first time since 2003, but Ovechkin will make his NHL playoff debut.
“If he’s not MVP of the league now,” Leonsis says in the postgame euphoria Saturday night, “I don’t know who deserves to be.”
Corralled right before he makes it out the door, Ovechkin smiles through every answer of a brief interview. It’s only when asked to compare his recent play with that of his first two NHL seasons that the 22-year-old Russian they’ve come to call “Alex the Great” exhales, then pauses for a moment, perhaps thinking about what’s transpired and what’s to come.
“It was my greatest year,” he says finally, flashing his gap-toothed grin, “and it’s not done yet.”
No, it isn’t, thanks to a remarkable turnaround by the Capitals.
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