The Montreal Canadiens cinderella run continues. After knocking off the Washington Capitals in round one, the Habs have successfully followed up that performance with a game 7 defeat of the Stanley Cup champions. Simply remarkable. The Habs are now the first team to eliminate the Stanley Cup champions and the holders of the President Trophy in the same playoff run. Congratulations to the Montreal Canadiens.
As a Caps fan, this is does an incredible job at easing the pain and agony we felt two weeks ago. At least for me personally. Although, the painful thoughts of what could have and should have been will persist well into the summer time. When the Habs dispatched the Caps in game 7 of their opening round series, the blogosphere was running wild with the typical accusations the Caps endured for most of the year. Accusations of not being built for the playoffs; all of which may have been true. But now we know that the Habs are no joke. They are for real.
But the Canadiens beating the Penguins, and thus earning a trip to the Eastern Conference Finals is much more than a Caps’ fan opportunity relish themselves in a Penguins defeat. It just may have a direct impact on the next year’s Caps team, and more specifically Alex Ovechkin.
Soon after Montreal’s win, I received an email from my brother – a red rocker much like myself . The notion was raised that since Sidney Crosby will not win his second Stanley Cup this season, the pressure placed on Ovechkin to win next year will not be nearly as high had Sid won his second cup. And thus, a lesser amount of pressure placed on a professional athlete typically leads to higher performance outcomes. So will the Penguins’ failure to repeat as Stanley Cup champions take some pressure off of Alex Ovechkin next year? If you consider the pressure Ovechkin would’ve been under had Sid collected his second Cup, the answer is unequivocally, yes.
It all begins with the never ending debate of who is the better player. Is it Ovechkin, or is it Crosby? Personally, I find this debate to be increasingly exhausting and rather old. But nevertheless, the debate will rage on unabated. The pro Crosby camp will note the that although Ovechkin has the edge in most statistical categories, true greatness is measured by how many rings a player has at the end of his career. The score is 1-0, Crosby. Whether it’s the Canadian media, the NHL, or Michael Wilbon – accusations of Ovechkin not being able to win the big game, or carry his team to a championship are everywhere. The media has put a tremendous amount of pressure on Ovechkin to win, solely because Crosby has won a Stanley and an Olympic gold medal. On both occasions, beating Ovechkin in head-t0-head match ups. Ovechkin has won neither, and up to this point really hasn’t been close. And to an extent, this pressure is deserved. Crosby and Ovechkin will forever be compared to one another.
I doubt Ovechkin looses sleep who has more Stanley Cups. But with the constant reminders that Crosby has a Cup and he has none, it is hard to imagine it has no affect on Ovechkin. Ovechkin wants to be the best player in the world. Going into next season knowing that he has as good a team, if not a better team than Sidney Crosby, at least on paper – coupled with the fact that it only takes one Cup to even up with Crosby is without a doubt a weight off his shoulders. The media circus surrounding Ovechkin next year, had Crosby won his second Stanley Cup and a gold medal in one calendar year would be overwhelming.
But now Crosby is going to get his share of scrutiny. Whether it is deserved or not is up for debate. Crosby will now have to share the questions with Ovechkin as to why he couldn’t finish off the Habs. This takes some of the spotlight off Ovechkin.
Ovechkin will start the 2010 season angrier and more motivated than ever, knowing his arch rival is still just one step ahead of him with regard to Stanley Cups. Ovechkin has made it clear that Stanley Cups are his only goal. The Capitals will enter next season as a favorite to win the Cup, just as they were this year. This year the cards weren’t dealt the way they had wished. Ovechkin will again place the franchise on his shoulders and attempt to carry his team to the promised land. But this weight will not compare to what Ovechkin would have had to carry if the Penguins were to repeat this year. And this is a good thing for Caps fans.
About the Author: Jeremy is a life time hockey fan currently living in Washington DC. Jeremy also runs a Capitals blog called The Nation's Capitals where he frequently posts blogs about the state of the Caps. His other interests include music and politics. Jeremy has a degree in Political Science. Being from DC, politics kind of comes with the territory.