Alex Ovechkin knows what it's like to win the Stanley Cup after years of failed attempts and has some advice for the Toronto Maple Leafs.
"For them, they're still a young group of guys," the Washington Capitals captain said before their 4-3 overtime win at the Maple Leafs on Tuesday. "I hope they're going to learn, but it's up to them how they want to do it. If they want to play for themselves or if they want to win a Stanley Cup they have to play differently."
The Maple Leafs have high expectations as a perennial Cup contender but haven't won a championship since 1967
Ovechkin and the Capitals defeated the Vegas Golden Knights in five games in the 2018 Stanley Cup Final after Washington hadn't advanced past the second round since 1998. It was Ovechkin's 10th trip to the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
The Maple Leafs have qualified for the playoffs in each of the past three seasons but lost in the first round each time, including in six games to the Capitals in 2017. They have not been to the Final since 1967 and have the longest active Stanley Cup title drought in the NHL.
"Coaching staff, players and you can see it took us four years with (then-coach) Barry [Trotz] to realize what we had to do," Ovechkin said. "We make mistakes, coaching staff makes mistakes, then when we get a chance to take another level, we all came together, and it worked. It helps a lot when your core group of guys stay together and go through that."
Ovechkin, who has scored 250 power-play goals in the NHL and at least 50 goals in eight seasons, said he took it upon himself to be better defensively in order to benefit the Capitals. Since the forward finished third-worst in the League at minus-35 in 2013-14, Ovechkin is plus-43.
The Maple Leafs (6-5-2) are 2-3-1 in their past six games, allowing at least four goals in four of them. They have allowed 3.38 goals per game, which ranks 24th in the NHL.
Asked about Toronto center Auston Matthews wanting to improve defensively, Ovechkin mentioned his own strides in recent seasons as an example of what Matthews needs to do.
"If you want to be an all-around player you have to play both ways, and I think I improved myself on the defensive side of the ice a lot," Ovechkin said. "For me and [Matthews] and for offensive guys, it's kind of hard to realize what you have to do on the defensive part but he's still young. He's going to be a great player. He is right now."
Maple Leafs coach Mike Babcock said Ovechkin's comments were valid.
"Well I don't know if he's wrong, he would know," Babcock said after the game. "He knows because he lived it. But if you look at Steve Yzerman, he lived it. A lot of guys live it till they're 30, but you've got to decide if you want to wait until you're 30 or if you want to figure it out now. It's the ultimate team game, and you have to sacrifice individual rights for team rights.
"… He's talking about running and gunning, but the bottom line is you've got to keep it out of your net, you're not outscoring anybody at playoff time. You have to outdefend them, and then your skill comes to the forefront. But is that not a fair assessment? It hurts my feelings, I can tell you that, I'm the coach. I'm supposed to get all this organized. But we know this. We're working towards it every single day."
Maple Leafs defenseman Travis Dermott said, "Teams that play tough are going to go far. You don't like hearing things like that said about your squad, but if you can take it and learn from it … He's a respected player, so if he's saying that, there must be a little bit of truth, if any, so I guess you can take that and go with it."
NHL.com independent correspondent Dave McCarthy contributed to this report