WASHINGTON - Alex Ovechkin remembered what Troy Brouwer said earlier this season about the Winter Classic and took it to heart.
"Brouwer said, 'It's a good time to show up and make a show,'" Ovechkin recalled.
Brouwer scored the game-winning goal as the Washington Capitals beat the Chicago Blackhawks 3-2 on Thursday at Nationals Park. But that wouldn't have been possible were it not for Ovechkin playing some of his best hockey and scoring earlier in the afternoon.
Ovechkin skated like a man possessed and was one of the best players on the ice. That's no surprise given the eyes watching from the stands and across North America with the superstar on centre stage.
"Alex, the bigger the stage, the bigger Alex is. Alex, he's a rock star," coach Barry Trotz said. "Alex has this ability, as the great stars do, that you want to keep your eyes on him. Even if he's not doing anything good, bad, or indifferent, you want to watch him. And that's what star power does. You want to watch those guys out there."
Ovechkin made the most of the brightest the spotlight can really get during an NHL regular season. The 29-year-old had five shot attempts in the first period and ended with 13, flying around the ice with a purpose.
After banging home the rebound of a point shot from Mike Green, Ovechkin jumped into the glass as part of his signature celebration and ignited a crowd of 42,832 that filled the ballpark.
"I always have fun," Ovechkin said. "But this is probably one of the special days. And as soon as you see a puck go in, it's a great feeling because you want to get success and you want to win."
Ovechkin drives the Capitals' success as the face of the franchise and has been the leader of the core of Green, Nicklas Backstrom and Brooks Laich for the past decade. Playoff success has eluded this group, but absent a couple of tough series, the 2004 No. 1 pick has performed and is a point-a-game scorer in the post-season.
It'll be a few months until Ovechkin and his teammates get another chance to get past the second round. For now, they know they just need to keep winning games.
The Winter Classic is just one of 82 regular-season games, but Ovechkin was instrumental in the Capitals winning for the ninth time in the past 13 games.
"There's a lot of players in this league who want the big stage, but when they're put in the spotlight, they're not as big," Trotz said. "I think that the great players of their generation, and Alex is one, is that, when the stage is very big, you know what you're going to get and you're going to get a good performance, a great performance."
Asked about stepping up in big moments, Ovechkin said: "I just like when I play against great teams and especially if it's a great atmosphere."
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