As we've discussed in this space before, Alex Ovechkin has been unfairly maligned as a playoff performer throughout his career. But it's not a knock on him to say that his performance in the Washington Capitals' Stanley Cup run -- wait, did I just write that? -- has been above and beyond what he's offered in previous postseasons.
Those contributions include the timeliness of his scoring -- he had a hand in three game winners in the series against the Pittsburgh Penguins and two backbreakers against the Tampa Bay Lightning in the conference finals -- to the buy-in on defensive commitment that has permeated the entire lineup.
Simply put, this is some of the best hockey of Alex Ovechkin's life, and it's no coincidence that the Capitals are where they are concurrently with that performance.
But as anyone around the game will tell you, the more locked-in a player becomes, the weirder they become. Hockey players are a bundle of superstitions and tics to begin with, but that's multiplied when things are clicking the way they are for the Capitals.
I saw two examples of this in Tampa with Ovechkin. The first is well documented: Ovechkin taking the "hot lap" to start Capitals practices on the road. It began ahead of Game 6 of the Penguins' series, when he took over from center Jay Beagle as the practice pacesetter. It has continued through the Lightning series. The Capitals have won all three road games.
I asked him if this is a superstition or something he just enjoys.
Ovechkin slapped his thigh. "These guys have to move, you know? They have to wake up," he said.
Capitals practice in Tampa began with The Ovechkin Hot Lap, a tradition started after Game 5 of the Eastern Conference semifinal. Jay Beagle used to do it for the Capitals during road practices, racing around the rink to officially start the morning skate. But Ovechkin took over last round to change the vibe, and the Capitals haven't lost since. Said Beagle: "If the big guy wants it, he gets it."
Then there was the stool:
Ovechkin moving a stool to make sure it was in the same place as it was in a Game 1 interview was one of my favorite little quirks of the ECF so far. pic.twitter.com/FEZqlpF6FM
- Greg Wyshynski (@wyshynski) May 14, 2018
Ovechkin did his media availability before Games 1 and 2 in the same place, just outside the rink near a VIP dining area. The first time, there was a stool set there in case Ovechkin wanted to take a seat, but this not being an acoustic guitar performance, he declined. So the second time, someone moved the stool out of the way for him, because he obviously didn't need it. But Ovechkin grabbed the stool and moved it back.
Because it was there before the Caps' Game 1 win, and it needed to be there before Game 2, obviously.
The Capitals won both games by a combined score of 10-4, while making the Lightning look over and out. Whether it's hot laps or stool placement, Ovechkin's doing something right, and the Caps are six games away from a Stanley Cup.