-- Round One in 2010 goes to Alex Ovechkin
and the Washington Capitals
That's big in its own right, but Ovechkin wasn't about to make the Capitals' 6-3 win over Pittsburgh out to be any bigger than it needs to be. He wasn't about to say it erases the sting that definitely still lingers from last year's horrific 6-2 loss to these Penguins in Game 7 of that classic series.
"Yeah, you know, it's one of 82 games," Ovechkin said after scoring two goals and dishing out an assist in nearly 21 minutes of ice time. "We're happy we win, but still, it's over and we have to be ready for next game."
Ovechkin only cracked a smile during his postgame news conference when a reporter asked him what it feels like to be booed by Penguins' fans in this building.
"It's great," he said. "I think fans love me and they boo me because I'm on the other team."
Other than that little quip, Ovechkin was all business. It was a much different approach than he took in the morning, when he appeared to be trying out a comedy act by saying he swapped secrets with Sidney Crosby
about getting assists and scoring goals.
Deep down, Ovechkin takes a lot of personal satisfaction in beating Crosby and topping No. 87's stats in the game (Crosby had a goal and was minus-1). But that's not what this was about. You get the feeling that's not what this rivalry will ever be about again.
"Well, I'm pretty happy" was about all Ovechkin would offer when asked about personal satisfaction. He commented about how Crosby "played great today," but went on to talk about how well the Capitals' defense played against No. 87, too.
Mind you, this was a Capitals' defense playing without Mike Green
and with three players (Karl Alzner
, Tyler Sloan
and John Carlson
) who have combined to play a grand total of 106 NHL games.
"I don't think we give him lots of chances to control the puck," Ovechkin said of Crosby. "When you give Sid and Evgeni (Malkin) lots of space, they can create some dangerous things for our team, but our D played well today.
"It's the kind of game where you get good experience and I think Alzie and Carlson did an unbelievable job, and Sloaney, too," he added. "They protect the middle of the ice, control the puck well."
Ovechkin, who was held without a shot in Tuesday's win over Detroit, the first time in 2 1/2 seasons that has happened, had eight on Thursday and another four that were either blocked or missed the net. He wound up with two goals, including one on the power play that tied the game at 3-3 with 3:35 to play in the second period.
The Caps stormed out of the dressing room for the third and got goals from Tomas Fleischmann
and Nicklas Backstrom
within the first 3:25 to take a commanding 5-3 lead. Ovechkin tacked on an empty-netter in the final minute for good measure.
"Two goals and great game, I think he played very well," Malkin said of Ovechkin, who will soon be his teammate for Russia at next month's Winter Olympics. "Every game he plays 100 percent. It was a good game (for him) I think -- lots of shots, strong and lots of skating."
Ovechkin was pleased with his effort, too -- but more important, he was happy that his team stayed calm after Jose Theodore
's misplay of the puck resulted in Crosby's goal just 4:22 into the game.
"It was a lucky goal, a bad bounce, but it's OK," he said. "It was a bad situation for us, but we kept pushing and pushing and we scored."
Ovechkin was elated that the Capitals showed resiliency in coming back from a 3-2 deficit by showing the Penguins' what the League's best power play looks like. He was especially pleased that the Capitals not only built the 5-3 lead early in the third period, but preserved it the rest of the way.
"You know, if we want to play, we play great," Ovechkin said. "If we do what coach says, I think nobody can stop us. But, sometimes when we get the lead we just stop playing, but today it wasn't a team you can stop playing against say after 10 minutes in the third period. You can't say, 'OK, we won this game and now let's go back home and enjoy our time at home.' It's not that type of team. They're an unbelievable team and they can score goals easily.
"We just want to win this game and it doesn't matter how," he added. "All this group was very concentrated, and I think we deserve this win."
Contact Dan Rosen at email@example.com