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Ovechkin hopes Capitals can find redemption against Crosby, Penguins

Forward 'can't wait' to face Pittsburgh in second round after previous failures

by Tom Gulitti @TomGulittiNHL / NHL.com Staff Writer

COLUMBUS -- In the aftermath of their series-clinching 6-3 victory against the Columbus Blue Jackets in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference First Round on Monday, it would have been understandable if Alex Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals wanted to take a moment to appreciate their accomplishment rather than start looking ahead to the Pittsburgh Penguins.

But Ovechkin knew the questions were coming. The Penguins defeated the Capitals in the second round each of the past two seasons and went on to win the Stanley Cup each time.

 

[RELATED: Capitals-Blue Jackets Game 6 recap]

 

Sidney Crosby and the Penguins are standing in the Capitals' way again, a foreboding obstacle between them and reaching the Eastern Conference Final for the first time since 1998.

But if you're expecting Ovechkin to be dreading this matchup, you're wrong.

Video: WSH@CBJ, Gm6: Ovechkin on advancing to Second Round

"I can't wait," said Ovechkin, who scored two goals Monday. "It's a huge opportunity for us to take a step forward. Obviously, it's the Stanley Cup champion back-to-back. They know how to play. They know how to handle the pressure. It's going to be a huge series for us."

Facing the Penguins will bring back all the reminders of the Capitals' past failures against them, including a 2-0 loss at home in Game 7 last season. The way the Capitals faded in that game is something that has hung with many of them for the past year.

They still don't have many answers for what went wrong, but they have another chance at redemption. This group isn't as deep in skill as the ones that won the Presidents' Trophy the past two seasons before losing to the Penguins, but perhaps it has more resolve.

After a summer of changes, few expected them to finish in first place in the Metropolitan Division, and they did that, overcoming an 11-10-1 start to finish 49-26-7 with 105 points, five more than the Penguins. They were tested again after they lost the first two games to the Blue Jackets at home in overtime, but didn't blink and reeled off four consecutive wins after that to take the best-of-7 series in six games.

So maybe these Capitals are different. Maybe they're stronger mentally.

"We believe in each other," Ovechkin said. "It doesn't matter what happened, we have to stick together. We have to stick to the plan and stick to the system."

Ovechkin was a big part of the Capitals' comeback against the Blue Jackets and their victory in Game 6, when he scored two big goals in the second period to put the Capitals ahead for good. He had five goals and eight points in the series.

After Nick Foligno scored to pull the Blue Jackets even at 1-1 at 8:40 of the second, Ovechkin answered with a rebound goal at 12:50. Ovechkin started that sequence with a big hit on Blue Jackets forward Oliver Bjorkstrand that forced a turnover and then went to the net to backhand the rebound of Brooks Orpik's left point shot for his 50th NHL career playoff goal.

Video: WSH@CBJ, Gm6: Ovechkin backhands in rebound

Ovechkin struck again with a power-play goal from his office -- the left face-off circle -- to make it 3-1 with 1:37 left in the second period.

"He's a big, strong guy and he's scored a lot of goals," Capitals coach Barry Trotz said. "He's evolved in areas of his game. He's not just at that [face-off] dot. He will go the front of the net. He's not scared to do that. So [he's] just adding layers to his game."

The new layer that Trotz was most interested in discussing Monday was Ovechkin's commitment defensively, as evidenced by the two shots he blocked. That included one from defenseman Ryan Murray with 2:24 remaining when the Capitals had a 5-3 lead and Blue Jackets goalie Sergei Bobrovsky was on the bench for an extra attacker.

"That's where you get your street cred with your teammates, boy," Trotz said. "You've got to block a shot when it's necessary and get a puck out when it's necessary. So I probably give him more props for that than even scoring goals because that's what you expect of him. The other stuff, those are the necessary things, those details, those necessary details that allow you to win.

"If you don't have them, then you're not going to win."

Ovechkin will certainly need them against the Penguins, a series that is always highlighted by the Crosby/Ovechkin matchup. Ovechkin was the first pick in the 2004 NHL Draft. Crosby was the first pick in 2005.

They each entered the League at the start of the 2005-06 season. They met in the second round of the 2009, 2016 and 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs. The Penguins won each of those series and went on to win the Stanley Cup each time.

For all Ovechkin has done, including scoring his 600th goal and a League-leading 49 goals this season, the 32-year-old Russian is constantly reminded that he not only hasn't won the Stanley Cup, but he's yet to advance beyond the second round.

Whatever doing that this season would mean to his legacy, he wasn't interested in discussing it Monday.

"It's all about team," he said. "We've been struggling in the second round, and we just have to believe in each other. Don't look what's happened in previous years. It's this year. It's new season. It's new series."

***

 

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