ARLINGTON, Va. (AP) - The world's greatest hockey player has his back against the wall, so he coped as only a modern athlete can - by logging on to the Internet.
"I go to our fan club message boards," Alex Ovechkin said Thursday. "And they say, 'OK, like, what's next?' 'What do we have to do?' 'Trade him.' 'Build new team.' It's kind of an interesting situation."
Why subject himself to all that angst? Surely, the fact that the favored Washington Capitals are down 3-1 in their first-round series against to the New York Rangers should speak for itself.
"I just want to see how our fans react," Ovechkin said. "Of course, they're not happy, but we're not happy, either. But it is what it is. We lost three games. I think we play good enough in the games, but one guy beats our team."
That one guy is Henrik Lundqvist, who has all but single-handedly put the Rangers within one victory of advancing to the Eastern Conference semifinals for the third straight year. Washington has outshot (149-99), outscored (8-7) and arguably outplayed New York over the balance of five games, but the Capitals' potent offense found its rhythm only in Game 3's 4-0 win .
"The reason that they've won three out of four is he's stood on his head," center Brooks Laich said. "And sometimes as shooters you get frustrated and you try and force shots in, and then you try and shoot for corners and you end up shooting it wide. Sometimes he can be in your head. We're giving him 35, 36 shots at the net each game; we just have to make sure to find a way to bear down on our opportunities and somehow find the back of the net."
The second-seeded Capitals need to win the final three games, starting with Friday night's Game 5, to avoid an early exit that would be tough to take for a team with such high expectations. The good news, at least from a motivational standpoint, is that they nearly pulled off the same thing last year when they trailed the Philadelphia Flyers 3-1 before rallying to tie the series - only to lose Game 7 in overtime.
"Last year was a much more physical series at this time," Washington coach Bruce Boudreau said. "I don't think there's been a hatred built up between New York and us like Philadelphia, so that series is different. Their goalie's playing a little bit out of his head - I don't even know if it's out of his head; it's normal for him. But if we dwell on last year, we'll end up where we were last year, so we've got to dwell on what's in front of us. It's a new situation, a new team. We didn't get the job done last year, and this year hopefully in the same situation we will."
The Rangers, likewise, haven't had much luck against Capitals rookie goaltender Simeon Varlamov, who is 1-2 in the series despite allowing only three goals in three games. Varlamov's first significant mistake came Wednesday night - he bobbled a shot in his glove, allowing a rebound that was put into the net - and it was the difference in New York's 2-1 victory.
With such a small margin for error, Rangers coach John Tortorella has little tolerance for silly mistakes - such as Sean Avery's two undisciplined penalties while New York was trying to preserve a one-goal lead in the third period.
"If we keep on flirting with the discipline problems, we'll lose," Tortorella said. "And not just one game. Momentum changes. We've been flirting with that all series long and a big part of our situation (Wednesday) night is I thought our penalty killing was just outstanding along with some great goaltending at key times. But, you cannot keep going to the well like that with the lack of discipline we have shown at times and expect to continue to be in the series."
Back in Washington, Ovechkin - held without a goal in the series until scoring early in the third period Wednesday - was getting his fill from the message boards. He said he's never posted anything himself, but what message would he put up there if he had to?
"Keep you head up. We need support right now," Ovechkin said. "Like last year. Fans were great all season long. Wish us well. Scream loud."