This is not the article I set out to write…far from it. After Vegas had won game one of these 2018 Stanley Cup Finals, I was outlining this piece about the drama of sport…how this was the sports story of the century, akin to the “Thrilla in Manila” with Ali and Frazier, or Maz’s 9th inning homer in the 1960 World Series, or the St. Louis Rams’ Mike Jones making “The Tackle” on the Tennessee Titans’ Kevin Dyson, one yard short of what would have been a game-tying touchdown in Super Bowl XXXIV, or of course, the 1980 Lake Placid “Miracle on Ice.”
In fact, I was calling this the “Miracle on Ice II.” Could there be any greater sporting drama than the Vegas Golden Knights? My analog drama meter (dramometer) was pegging. My digital dramometer was maxing out. Yeah, it was going to be a great article, full of melodrama. Then Alexander Ovechkin, “The Great 8,” and his “ALL CAPS” Washington Capitals put the kibosh on that.
John Lennon once cried…”the dream is over.” Someone else once spurted, “one man’s dream is another man’s nightmare.” The man with his dream realized is Alexander Ovechkin, the nightmare belongs to Marc-Andre Fleury and the Golden Knights.
Eddie Olczyk, kindly known as Edzo, the former Pittsburgh Penguin forward, former Penguin head coach (very briefly) and former Penguin color broadcaster (twice), said before the start of NBC’s Stanley Cup Finals broadcast between the upstart Vegas Golden Knights and the finally started Washington Capitals, that the Knights’ Marc-Andre Fleury could no longer keep up his antics (my word)…that being…the cosmic play in goal that he had displayed in the first three rounds of these NHL playoffs (again, my words ’cause Eddie doesn’t talk like this). I thought Edzo must be admonishing me directly since I’ve been touting Fleury’s out-of-this-world play since mid-April. He said Fleury’s outstanding play could not last, and it didn’t—and that Washington would win the Cup, which they did. The fairly tale that was Marc-Andre Fleury…lost his glass slipper, and then, in a moment in having found it, it didn’t fit his foot.
I could expound on the shots ringing off the goalposts, the near goals careening off the crossbars, and the nets simply missed by Vegas, who just could not CAPITALIZE on numerous opportunities. I could extol over Fleury’s diving saves in game one, the only game the Knights won in this series, and I could elaborate on the saves he made in game three, which the Caps won anyway. I could also decry the pucks that got away from Fleury, but why? While it’s not all on Fleury, who often had to stop 2,3,4 shots in a single sequence of Caps’ scoring opportunities (you have to have a defenseman there to clear out the garbage, aka, rebounds), there were many that Fleury had to absorb and did not…like the Cup winner that leaked through his legs in a 3-3 tie in the third period of game 5. At that season-defining moment, that’s a save that unquestionably must be made. The shot came from Capitals’ winger Brett Connolly, squirted through Fleury’s legs and was popped in by Lars Eller for the series—and Stanley Cup—winner. Of course, Fleury took full culpability for the loss…and yes, in the postgame interview, he almost frowned…almost.
As for Lars Eller, it was he who scored the game-winning goal in double overtime of game 3 of the Caps’ first round series against Columbus. Had Washington lost game 3, they would have fallen behind, 3-0, against the Blue Jackets and most likely would have never recovered. However, it was the goal-scoring machine that is Alexander Ovechkin who propelled this Capitals team to hockey’s holy grail. He finally played Sidney Crosby-like…a captain carrying his team. And carry them he did, like a pack mule. Of course, Ovechkin had help from Tom Wilson, Nicklas Backstrom, T.J. Oshie, and Evgeny Kuznetsov, who had 32 points in 24 playoff games. And then there was goaltender Braden Holtby, who didn’t exactly stand on his head but quietly squelched the Golden Knights enough to kill their (and my) feel good story.
There may be no one like Ovechkin in the goal-scoring department. He is a sniper waiting for prey. He sets up shop just outside the left circle, takes a feed from Kuznetsov at center or across the ice from Wilson and buries it in the net like Minnesota Fats pocketing an eight ball in the corner. Ovy has won multiple scoring titles (Art Ross Trophy), MVPs (Hart), top rookie (Calder), most goals in a season (Maurice Richard) and other stuff, too, including the Conn Smythe trophy for the MVP of these playoffs.
After the fat lady sang last Wednesday night, June 6, all eyes, all cameras were on Ovechkin. For the first several minutes, NBC rarely showed anyone else but a close-up of Ovy. It was like he was Elvis. They were afraid to break away from him in fear of missing some expression or interaction, and with good reason. When he played at PPG Paints Arena in the second round against the Pens, his body was spasmodic. Every score brought jubilation and that gaping mouth that flashed that broken tooth, with eyes shut tight, coupled with that nasty growl. As this final series played on, his buoyancy proliferated. In the third period of the final game, he could smell Stanley’s silver. He couldn’t sit still, he couldn’t stand still. With a few seconds left, he was bouncing on the bench like a super ball. Then, as NHL commissioner Gary Bettman called Ovy to come to center ice to “get the Cup,” Ovechkin took pause, turned to his teammates, mouth agape, screamed, and still wouldn’t go get the Cup…as if he wanted to milk this pre-orgasmic moment. And when he finally went to get it and held it with Bettman for league photos, he was shaking the Cup (and screaming) as Bettman tried to hang on. Then the moment…he skated with the Cup held high. The moment had arrived…13 years in the coming, a lifetime in the making. The entire team was bouncing up and down like popcorn in the popper. It was truly a moment.
I rarely care which team wins if the Pens are not playing…just give me the drama of seven games per series. But I wanted to see Vegas complete this journey. The dramatics and theatrics would have just been too much, and I could have written that other article. But I had a more self-serving agenda. I relished in the thought of Washington being denied the championship. I loved the fact that the Pens own the Caps in the playoffs and wanted the “ALL CAPS” team to be denied. But after witnessing his utter elation, I could not help but feel for the “Great 8.” He waited so, so, very long. His passion and exuberance was authentic. I’m not sure I’ve witnessed such ebullience before in a champion. I believe I even had a tear or two in my eyes in the moment. It was like Jimmy Stewart at the conclusion of “It’s a Wonderful Life.” “Atta boy Clarence,” touts Stewart in that classic film.
No, it was not the ultra-dramatic moment that would have come with a fairy tale Vegas win, but it was emotional nonetheless.
(I can’t believe I’m saying this)…Atta boy Ovy! You deserve this moment.
Lee Kann is a filmmaker, media producer, and freelance writer for the New Pittsburgh Courier. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org