LAS VEGAS - Alex Ovechkin sat on the visiting bench at T-Mobile Arena on Sunday, staring out on the ice and watching his Washington Capitals teammates warm up for their final practice before Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final against the Vegas Golden Knights on Monday (8 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, SN, TVAS).
This is part of Ovechkin's regular routine before practices and morning skates, but it was understandable to wonder what was going through his mind on the eve of a game he's been waiting for his entire 13-season NHL career.
Ovechkin insisted he wasn't thinking about anything special.
"No, I just do it all the time," he said of sitting on the bench.
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Although he's four wins away from winning the Stanley Cup for the first time, Ovechkin seems intent on not getting too caught up in the moment.
The 32-year-old was at ease while fielding questions during Stanley Cup Final Media Day, making jokes that the media can "watch the hockey games with cocktails" in Las Vegas and that he heard from Russian president Vladimir Putin.
"Yeah, Vladimir Putin called me and wished me luck, you know" the Moscow native quipped when asked if he's heard from Putin. "No, I'm just joking."
After so many years of being asked about why he couldn't get past the second round in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, Ovechkin is clearly enjoying the change in narrative. He's always produced in the playoffs, with 58 goals, 54 assists and 112 points in 116 career postseason games.
He's second in the NHL this season with 12 playoff goals (behind Mark Scheifele of the Winnipeg Jets with 14) and 22 points (behind teammate Evgeny Kuznetsov's 24).
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"You look at his numbers, they're undeniable. They're really good," Capitals coach Barry Trotz said. "But I sense a freedom. I sense a guy that's very focused, a guy that's on a little bit of a mission, and it's good."
Ovechkin appreciates the opportunity he and the Capitals have. They've never won the Stanley Cup in their 43-season history. In their one previous trip to the Stanley Cup Final, in 1998, the Capitals were swept by the Detroit Red Wings.
"It's been 20 years [since] the city, the fans, the players have been in the Stanley Cup Final," Ovechkin said. "Our city right now is very excited, very passionate, like 6,000 people were there at practice [on Saturday]. It was incredible."
This run seems to have come out of the blue after Washington won the Presidents' Trophy the past two seasons and was eliminated in the second round by the Pittsburgh Penguins each time. The Capitals lost a host of complementary players last summer, so less was expected of them this season and they finished in first place in the Metropolitan Division.
The Golden Knights have their own improbable story of reaching the Stanley Cup Final in their inaugural season, but that doesn't diminish what the Capitals have done.
"We want to be here," Ovechkin said. "We worked so hard all year. I don't think nobody believed in us and nobody believed in Vegas, and we're right now in the Stanley Cup Final and we fight for the Cup. I'm enjoying this moment and I think everybody is enjoying it."
Video: Capitals players, management weigh in at Media Day
Realizing how difficult it was to reach this point, Ovechkin also seems to understand that he might not get this close again so he has to make the most of this moment. It's clear in the effort he's given at both ends of the ice.
Whether it's scoring big goals or blocking a shot in a key moment, he's done both.
"I think he's just evolved," Washington defenseman John Carlson said. "He's always evolved. He's always gotten better and worked harder and wanted to succeed more than any other year. This year, whether it's a realization from him or whether it's him putting the work in and the results are finally coming is definitely a possibility. But he's been our rock ever since I got here, and it's good to see him finally break through because of how great he's performed for so long."
All the talk about whether Ovechkin needs to win the Stanley Cup to secure his legacy as one of the game's greatest players doesn't seem to bother him.
"The Stanley Cup Final, we've never been here," Ovechkin said. "Of course, it's exciting, but I don't want to get too excited, I don't want to get too energetic right now before the games. I'd rather keep my emotions, keep my energy on the ice and do my best [out] there.
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