Alex Ovechkin is the best hockey player on the planet. We all know this. But he saves a special physical and scoring dominance for the most storied NHL franchise, the Montreal Canadiens. Ovechkin and his Washington Capitals start their first-round playoff series tonight at the Verizon Center so it’s worth re-living some highlights.
Nose broken, Ovechkin breaks the Habs
Exhibit A in Ovechkin’s dominance of Montreal is one of the most other-wordly efforts in his career: a January 31, 2008 overtime win against Montreal at home.
The game began when Canadiens player Alex Kovalev sliced Ovechkin’s face open with a reckless high stick. A few stitches later, Ovi was back on the ice, but then Canadien goon Francis Bouillon viciously shouldered Ovechkin in the face, breaking his nose. Later, a flying hockey puck hit Ovechkin in, drum roll please, the face, requiring more stitches for his lip.
In the face of such agonizing pain, lesser players might have quit. Pittsburgh Penguins captain Cindy Crysberry, for instance, would undoubtedly have been wailing for Penguins owner Mario Lemieux to fetch him his “blankie.” But Ovechkin, nicknamed the Russian Machine That Never Breaks, did not go home.
Instead, he started scoring. First, he rifled a one-timer slapshot past Montreal goalie Christobal Huet before Huet could even realize what was happening. Then he grabbed a sweet pass from Russian teammate Victor Kozlov and roofed the puck into the net over Huet’s left shoulder. His third goal was vintage Ovechkin: he skated the puck into the Canadiens’ territory, lined up one of their defensemen to block the goalie’s view of the puck, and wristed a laser-like shot through the defenseman’s legs and into the corner of the net.
While the hats rained down onto the ice for Ovi’s third goal, the Canadiens were grimacing with pain because in between his scoring bursts, Ovechkin had delivered cold revenge to many of the Montreal players, leveling them with monster checks that resembled mini car accidents.
“The more physical the play gets the greater Ovechkin is and they’d be wise not to be pushing and shoving with Ovechkin,” color commentator Craig Laughlin warned.
Despite Ovi’s efforts, the Canadiens tied up the game, sending it into overtime. Alexander the Great wasn’t finished. His teammate, Norris trophy candidate Mike Green, sent a howitzer-like slapshot at Huet that rebounded to teammate Jeff Shultz, who passed it to Ovi, who tapped in his fourth, game-winning goal for sudden death victory.
Sidney Crosby has never scored four goals in an NHL game.
A goal you’ll tell your grandkids about
Second in Ovechkin’s trail of Montreal tears is a highlight-reel goal that rivals Ovechkin’s famous shot-while-sliding-on-his-back goal against the Phoenix Coyotes.
Retrieving a loose puck, Ovechkin back-handed it off the boards around Montreal defenseman Roman Hamrlik while simultaneously escaping, spinorama style, from Hamrlik in the other direction. After skating around Hamrlik – and making him look like a pylon in the process — Ovechkin picked up the puck and put his shoulder into another speeding Montreal defenseman, getting knocked down to the ice.
Ovechkin and the Montreal defenseman were both sliding at high speed towards goalie Carey Price. Ovechkin from his side, managed to shoot the puck past Price a nanosecond before the three man collision left the goal off its moorings and general disarray.
Price, the goalie, looked dumbfounded as he untangled himself from the mess and watched the replay on the jumbotron. Showman Ovechkin put his hand to his ear as the hometown crowd went nuts. Hamrlik, the defenseman that Ovechkin spun around to start the phenomenal goal, is no slouch – the three-time all-star was drafted first overall in 1992. Nicknamed “the Hammer,” here’s what he had to say about looking like a speed limit sign as Alex the Great drove by in flagrant violation: “It’s frustrating.”
Checking Hal Gill into next week
The next stop on Ovechkin’s greatest Montreal hits, no pun intended, happened pretty recently when Number Eight showed just how strong he can be.
In February, after Montreal goalie Carey Price stopped a shot by Capital Mike Knuble, the puck rebounded out in front to in between defenseman Hal Gill’s feet.
Gill, who is listed at 6’ 7” and 241 pounds, was facing away from the goal and towards an incoming Russian missile – Ovechkin – who hit Gill so hard that he flew like a cartoon character slightly up into the air and backwards six to eight feet.
Gill landed on top of the Montreal goalie, who then accidentally pushed the puck into the net for a Capitals goal. But the goal was disallowed by referees in a decision that by forcing Gill to fly backwards into the goalie, Ovechkin had “interfered” with the goalie. Small loss for Ovechkin considering every Montreal player knows that if 6’ 7” Gill is toast when Number Eight targets him, any of them could be.
“This guy is an android! He’s not human!” one television color commentator said in his immediate reaction to the play.
These are some of the highlights of Ovechkin’s utter dominance of the Canadiens. You may be wondering why Alex the Great picked Montreal to wreak havoc on. On one hand, dominance is not unusual for Ovechkin. But on the other, he does seem to have a special penchant for playing the Habs, especially in Montreal where ice hockey is the king of sports. Ovechkin loves a big stage, and Montreal provides it. Ovechkin said of playing in the French-Canadian spotlight: “You don’t have to drink red bull.” Better make sure the ambulances are on hand for this playoff series.