Alex the Villain wins it for Caps

Capitals forward Alex Ovechkin (right) celebrates his goal against the Devils with teammates during...

Capitals forward Alex Ovechkin (right) celebrates his goal against the Devils with teammates during Game 2 of their NHL Eastern Conference semifinal series at Madison Square Garden in New York, N.Y., April 30, 2012. (RAY STUBBLEBINE/Reuters)

MIKE ZEISBERGER, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 12:13 AM ET

NEW YORK - It was the favoured chant of the capacity crowd at Madison Square Garden Monday night.

Cue the coutdown.

“Five ... four ... three ... two ... one ... Ovie sucks! ... Ovie sucks! ...” they screamed in unison, mocking Washington Capitals captain Alexander Ovechkin.

For the first two periods, it seemed to be working.

But anyone familiar with Alex Ovechkin knows he loves the spotlight. In the third period, he grabbed it, much to the chagrin of the New York Rangers and their fans.

In true Ovechkin form, The Great Eight ripped the winning goal at 12:33 of the third to give the visiting Capitals a 3-2 victory. This best-of-seven Eastern Conference semifinal is now tied at one game apiece.

Not bad for a guy who played six minutes less than Jay Beagle.

And five minutes less than Troy Brouwer.

And two minutes less than Matt Hendricks.

Those Capitals players have never been known as superstars.

Ovechkin has.

In the minds of some, he still is.

In the end, six Capital forwards received more ice time than the 13:36 given to Ovechkin. That list, by the way, doesn't include Washington's other star sniper, Alexander Semin.

While coach Dale Hunter insisted Ovechkin’s conservative minutes were due to the Caps “rolling four lines,” it’s easy to see the dilemma that Ovechkin finds himself in.

He wants to play gobs of minutes. And he wants to win in the playoffs. Hunter doesn’t necessarily see the two going hand in hand.

Monday night, Ovechkin put on a good game face. As the clock ticked down, he smiled and yelled support to his teammates, all while his butt was nailed to the bench in favour of more defensive-minded players.

“I feel good,” Ovechkin said. “You have to suck it up and use (the) time that Dale is giving to me.

“The most important thing right now, guys, is just to win the series and win the game. If you are going to talk about my game time and all that kind of stuff, it’s not (the) season -– it’s the playoffs. It’s what I said before, you have to suck it up and play for the team.”

Notice that Ovechkin is using the term “suck it up” a lot.

Does that seem like the phrase used by a happy camper?

Yet, when you saw the way he occupied the role as the team’s lead cheerleader down the stretch, well, there certainly are mixed messages coming from Ovechkin.

“Sometimes if you’re not (in) there you feel like you’re not in the game but if you have 10 second shift or 5 second shift you just have to go there and do something. It’s kind of hard but it is what it is,” Ovechkin said.

Maybe he’s not a fan of Hunter. At the same time, Hunter’s blueprint is working, and, at least for the time being, Ovechkin is putting any potential sulking on the back burner while this Hunter-guided ride continues to be successful.

“Ovie is a team guy and he’s cheering his guys on,” Hunter said. “He knows what these guys are going through at the end of the game. They’ve got to go out and slide and block shots. He appreciates that.”

But does Ovechkin appreciate playing 10 less shifts in a game than Jay Beagle (28-18)? We doubt it.

The Caps built an early 2-0 lead Monday on goals by Mike Knuble and Jason Chimera before the Rangers clawed their way back. A Brad Richards tally in the final minute of the first period was followed by a Ryan Callahan marker in the third, setting the stage for Ovechkin’s heroics.

As for the crowd’s mockery of him, Ovechkin took it in stride. He knows very well that fans don’t abuse you like that unless you are good.

“They pay their money, they see you play, they can do what they want,” he laughed.

On this night, the Garden faithful didn’t see much of Ovechkin, but it was enough to know he still has the makeup to be a hero on any given night, Dale Hunter or no Dale Hunter.

mike.zeisberger@sunmedia.ca

twitter.com/zeisberger


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