These two men are the key to tonight’s game.
I took this photo in Moscow almost exactly six years ago; Russia had just defeated Sweden for the Bronze at the IIHF World Championships. More excitingly for Capitals fans, news had just broken that Backstrom would be joining the Capitals in the upcoming season, so we asked the pair to pose as “new” teammates for the first time.
Backstrom’s immediate contributions the following Fall delighted Caps fans almost as much as Ovechkin’s debut did. The Capitals had found their best center since the days when Coach Oates wore a jersey. The future of this center-winger combination seemed limitless.
Of course, that has not translated to post-season success—at least, not on the level one expects from such talent. Now, six years after they first became teammates, Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom have a chance to shine, in another Game 7 against a familiar opponent.
And shine they must, if the Capitals are to move on.
Obviously no two players can do it alone. The rest of the team must find that sweet spot: being aggressive, but not reckless, while patiently executing Coach Oates’ game plan. Braden Holtby must continue his stellar play. The team needs the discipline to commit fewer penalties (and hope for a balanced game from the men in stripes). They must do those little things, like crashing the net, that make all the difference.
But the team’s captain and his pivot can, and must, put so much pressure on the Rangers that the blueshirts are gasping their way to the locker room between periods.
Even if King Henrik manages to keep Ovechkin and Backstrom off the score sheet again, the pair needs to be so dominant that the exhausted Rangers start making mental mistakes… mistakes of the two-minute penalty variety. Mistakes that create openings for the rest of the Capitals.
Mistakes that lose hockey games.
So there can be no coasting around the edges; no putting the difficult pretty plays ahead of the high-percentage ugly ones. Tonight’s game is an opportunity for this uber-skilled pair to show their mettle and flat-out dominate on the ice.
Then, if the Capitals succeed, it starts all over again… but for now, for tonight, all those “one game at a time” and “it’s a one-game series” cliches ring true. And Ovechkin and Backstrom must lead the way.