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Stanley Cup Final

Ovechkin 'on another level' for Capitals in Game 3 win vs. Golden Knights

Washington captain enjoying every moment of Stanley Cup Final, knows there is still work to do

by Tom Gulitti @TomGulittiNHL / Staff Writer

WASHINGTON -- Alex Ovechkin is on the emotional ride of his life, and he's taking all of us with him.

With two more wins, he can end it by lifting the Stanley Cup.

An electric crowd reveled in every moment of the Washington Capitals' 3-1 win against the Vegas Golden Knights in Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final at Capital One Arena on Saturday. But Ovechkin was by far the most excited person in the building.

All you had to do was watch him.


[RELATED: Kuznetsov boosts Capitals in Game 3 | Complete Golden Knights vs. Capitals series coverage]


"He's on another level," Capitals defenseman John Carlson said. "Everyone kind of reacts to stuff differently. … It's great to see. He's as engaged as anyone could ever be, I think. It shows in his game and it shows in the effect that it has on the rest of us."

Ahead 2-1 in the best-of-7 series after winning the past two games, the Capitals can take a commanding lead with another victory in Game 4 here on Monday (8 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, SN, TVAS). Craving the first championship in the Capitals' 43 seasons, red-clad fans who packed Capital One Arena and the streets surrounding it were rewarded with the first Stanley Cup Final win on home ice in team history.

But Ovechkin was quick to warn there is a lot of work remaining.

"The atmosphere was great. The city is excited, the fans are excited, but it's only two (wins)," Ovechkin said. "We just have to move forward and don't think about it too much."

Video: VGK@WSH, Gm3: Ovechkin opens scoring to tie record

It took Ovechkin, 32, until this, his 13th NHL season, to advance beyond the second round in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Now that he's in his first Cup Final, he's clearly enjoying every moment of it, whether it be goals he scores, goals scored by his teammates or saves by goaltender Braden Holtby.

One of the enduring images following Holtby's incredible stick-paddle save on Alex Tuch that preserved Washington's 3-2 win in Game 2 on Wednesday was of Ovechkin's reactions on the bench. Almost in disbelief, the Capitals captain covered his face with his gloves. 

"You just look at his face," coach Barry Trotz said. "He's so emotional about playing for the Cup. It's something he's always wanted to do. We all have."

After Ovechkin set the tone in a scoreless first period with three shots on goal, eight attempts, two hits and two blocked shots, Trotz thought it was fitting that he scored the Capitals' first goal in their first home Stanley Cup Final game since 1998.

The goal, which gave Washington a 1-0 lead 1:10 into the second period, came at the end of a relentless shift when Vegas goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury made saves on Tom Wilson, Evgeny Kuznetsov and Carlson before Ovechkin lunged over defenseman Brayden McNabb to backhand the puck into the left side of the net.

"I thought that was a little bit of poetic justice, if you will, for all the tough times," Trotz said. "I love the goal. We kept it alive, maybe four, five, six chances to keep it alive and it finally ended up in the back of the net."

Video: VGK@WSH, Gm3: Trotz on Kuznetsov's return, confidence

The goal was Ovechkin's 14th of the playoffs, tying John Druce's Capitals record from 1990 for most in a postseason. It was also his 60th career playoff goal (in 119 games), making him the fourth active player, and 34th in NHL history, to reach that number (Patrick Marleau: 72 in 184 games, Sidney Crosby: 66 in 160 games, Evgeni Malkin: 62 in 158 games).

"He was possessed out there. That's a good way to put it, I think," Carlson said. "He's playing with passion and energy and joy, and he's a one-man wrecking crew. How committed he is, it's the best he's played, in my opinion."

As enthusiastically as Ovechkin celebrated that goal, his reaction increased exponentially when Kuznetsov scored on a 3-on-1 to extend the Capitals lead to 2-0 at 12:50 of the second. Watching from the bench when Kuznetsov's shot from the right face-off circle went in off the far post, Ovechkin threw his arms into the air and appeared to scream with all his might. Center Lars Eller gave him a bear hug and belly rub to add to the celebration.

"I think right now, it's just automatic," Ovechkin said of his emotions. "You just get excited. If [Holtby] makes a huge save, you can see all the bench just jump and get excited."

Video: VGK@WSH, Gm3: Holtby, Ovechkin on how Caps won Game 3

Tampa Bay Lightning coach Jon Cooper said during the Eastern Conference Final that it appeared Ovechkin was taking out 13 seasons of frustration on these playoffs. Maybe he's also letting go of 13 seasons of emotions.

If NBC Sports had a channel dedicated solely to a following Ovechkin's every move and emotional reaction in this series, it would be must-see TV.

"Ovi, he always shows his emotions when he scores, but he'll be just as happy for somebody else scoring," Eller said. "He wants to win as bad as anyone. You see how our team celebrates when somebody else scores.

"Everybody is happy for one another and everybody is happy for the team, and that's how it should be."


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