TAMPA -- Yes, there have been moments over Alex Ovechkin's 13 NHL seasons -- and during the Washington Capitals run to the Eastern Conference Final against the Tampa Bay Lightning -- that he's wondered what it would be like to be this close to a Stanley Cup Final.
All he needs to get there now is a win in Game 7 at Amalie Arena on Wednesday (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, SN1, TVAS). Knowing all it's taken to get to this point, Ovechkin doesn't want to let this chance slip away.
"Of course you have dreams, you have thoughts, you have all different stuff before the year or before the playoffs, and right now you're in this position and you just don't want to give up this opportunity," Ovechkin said Tuesday. "It's not going to be easy. It's not going to be like a regular-season game [that], OK, tomorrow we're going to have another one and we can bounce back.
"Tomorrow is going to be the biggest game in our life, maybe."
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The Capitals know what's at stake. If they win, they'll advance to the Stanley Cup Final -- where they'd face the Vegas Golden Knights beginning Monday -- for the second time in their history and first time since 1998.
For Ovechkin, 32, who had never made it past the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs before this season, reaching the Cup Final would be significant, but not his ultimate objective of leading the Capitals to their first championship.
"We don't have satisfaction yet. We still don't reach our goal," he said. "Tomorrow is going to be a huge step forward, and it's going to be fun."
Ovechkin understands the potential finality of a Game 7. This will be the 11th of his career, tying him and teammate Nicklas Backstrom for second-most among active players behind Boston Bruins defenseman Zdeno Chara, who has played in 12.
Dating to a 3-2 overtime loss to the Philadelphia Flyers in the 2008 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals, Ovechkin doesn't have a lot of positive Game 7 memories to dwell upon. The Capitals went 3-7 in his first 10.
Video: TBL@WSH, Gm6: Ovechkin does it all for the Caps
But there were lessons in each of those losses, including the most recent one, a 2-0 defeat in the second round against the Pittsburgh Penguins last season. After winning 5-2 in Game 6 in Pittsburgh, Washington started strong at home in Game 7, but couldn't put the puck past goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury early and faded late.
Forward Jay Beagle remembered Tuesday how that loss broke the Capitals' "hockey spirit" because they believed it was finally their season to win the Stanley Cup. That disappointment lingered into the start of this season, but they've grown from it and are on the verge of a breakthrough against the Lightning, if they handle this Game 7 better.
"You just don't have to [get] frustrated because something happens not your way," Ovechkin said. "You have to stay the same course and play the right way. It doesn't matter what happened until the last second. We just have to continue to play like that, like we played last night."
Washington played its most complete game of the season in a 3-0 home victory in Game 6 on Monday. Although Ovechkin didn't have a point, he was among the Capitals best players, setting the physical tone with four hits and leading the way with his effort at both ends of the ice.
"Game 6 is one of the better ones I've seen him play," defenseman Matt Niskanen said. "Really, a machine out there. Just knocking people around, was dangerous, hard to handle. We'll try to bring those same type of efforts tomorrow."
Video: WSH@TBL, Gm2: Ovechkin buries Kuznetsov's setup
Ovechkin and the rest of the Capitals have been careful not to make this all about him. As Washington coach Barry Trotz said, "The opportunity is not only for Alex, it's for everybody."
But when the Capitals have failed in the past, Ovechkin has been the lightning rod for the blame. That comes with the territory sometimes when you've scored 607 NHL goals, are the face of the franchise and one of the faces of the League. And he's accepted that.
So no one can blame him for enjoying this run.
"It's fun," Ovechkin said. "I don't think nobody thought we're going to be fighting against the Tampa Bay Lightning for the Stanley Cup Final in Game 7. I don't think [the media] thought you're going to be here. Probably you're going to be on vacation somewhere. But we're here and we're excited."
The Capitals rallied after losing the first two games at home in the first round against the Columbus Blue Jackets. Then they finally knocked off their nemesis, the Penguins, in second round.
Overcoming the ghosts of their past Game 7 failures appears to be their final hurdle.
"Tomorrow is the biggest, probably, game in my life and [for] this team, this organization," Ovechkin said. "We just want to be here and wanted to come back here to Game 7 and win the game."
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