Dan Marino made it to the Super Bowl in his second season. He never made it to another one. Joe Montana made it to four Super Bowls and won every single one. The debate for several years before Peyton Manning and Tom Brady arrived was whether Montana or Marino was the best quarterback of all time. Arguments could be made for either Dan or Joe, but Joe had Super Bowls and Dan did not. The “yeah but” tarnished an incredible career. Had he won, the argument for him being the best of all time could have been easier. Alas, it never happened.
Alexander Ovechkin is a lot like Dan Marino. He has never made it despite being one of the best in the game. His nemesis was Sidney Crosby of the Pittsburgh Penguins, who would knock Ovi’s Washington Capitals out of the playoffs. The argument for nearly a decade was whether Ovechkin or Crosby was better. Fans on both sides take the argument as seriously as football fans do with Marino and Montana. People are very passionate about these opinions and their hatred of the other guy. Ovechkin has largely been in Crosby’s shadow, as Sidney has won three Stanley Cups in four tries. Both Crosby and Montana made it to four Championship games. Ovechkin and Marino have made it to one.
Until Wednesday night.
Alexander Ovechkin scored the first goal of the game and the Capitals never looked back in Game 7. With their backs against the wall, Washington dominated the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 6 and 7. This was after Ovechkin and the Capitals FINALLY got past the Pittsburgh Penguins for the first time in 3 years. Ovechkin was a catalyst on the team, not only by scoring but also by playing the most physical game he has in years. Maybe ever. He was straight wreckin’ fools in Game 6 delivering body checks everywhere. The Caps outhit the Lightning 39-19, and Ovi had 4 of those hits. The Lightning outhit the Caps 46-27 but Ovi had 5 of those hits for the Caps. This is where the argument on Crosby vs Ovechkin intensifies. Ovechkin is a far more physical player. Sidney is the finesse. Ovechkin is the physical. Then again, Ovechkin is 6’3″ 235lbs and Sidney is 5’11” 200 lbs.
The Vegas Golden Knights will overshadow this story, however. They overshadowed the miraculous turn around of the woeful Colorado Avalanche who went from the worst team in the NHL in decades to taking the defending Western Conference Champions to six games. A team that DID NOT EXIST other than having a name is in the Stanley Cup Finals. At this time last year, the Vegas Golden Knights had no players, no roster. Some are comparing their rise to the Miracle on Ice, where it wasn’t the most talented guys but a bunch of guys that fit perfectly to create a magical season. This story can’t be ignored because we’ve never seen it before and will probably never see it again. It’s not like the Browns moving to Baltimore and becoming the Ravens and being contenders annually. That was not a relocation. This team flat out did not exist. A bunch of castaways and AHL guys destroying the league? This was not supposed to happen. A large reason why is Marc-Andre Fleury, the former Pittsburgh Penguin. And Ovi’s nemesis.
Fleury was far and away the best player on the Golden Knights. His injury early on looked to be devastating to Vegas, but, in a way, it may have helped the team come together. He’s been flat out dominant in the playoffs, posting a 12 – 3 record with 1.68 GAA and .947 SV%. All of these are career playoff best for Marc-Andre. So this isn’t a story of an average goal tender getting hot in the playoffs and going on a miracle run. Fleury is actually good and has been his entire career. He’s owned a number of teams in the playoffs, especially the Capitals. If that trend continues, Ovi will still be the Dan Marino of the NHL. This will be Ovechkin’s toughest test to date.
Washington Head Coach Barry Trotz has said that this current roster might not be the deepest or most talented that he’s had. But sometimes things just…click. Game 6 vs Tampa Bay is when the Capitals seemed to click. It can not be overstated how dominant the Capitals were in that game. They made the Lightning look like a team that shouldn’t even have made the playoffs. They need to keep up that frantic pace and put a ton of shots on Fleury if they want to hoist the cup.
In a crazy season and an otherwise uncrazy playoffs, anything is possible. The Vegas Golden Knights are supposed to be planning for a high draft pick. They are supposed be in their offseason. They are not. They have the most popular bandwagon in the sport since Patrick Kane arrived on the Blackhawks. They are America’s team…for the moment. Just like the Nashville Predators last year. But the Capitals are actually in the capital city of America. Had it not been for the Golden Knights, Washington would have been America’s team. They would have had the bandwagon. Ovechkin winning a Cup is not only something hockey fans would love. This country would love it. We love the underdog. We love the guy who keeps getting knocked down but always gets back up. We love it when guys like Raymond Bourque finally gets his chance at the Cup after a Hall of Fame Season. Alexander Ovechkin is a Hall of Famer, just like Dan Marino. You knew it from day one and just enjoyed the ride. Ovechkin won’t be retiring soon, but this is his best shot to finally do win the big one. He might get another shot, but there is absolutely no guarantee. He’s a Hall of Famer either way. It sure would be nice, though, if he didn’t have to deal with the “yeah, but” that Dan Marino always has. While everyone is betting on Vegas, maybe you should bet on #8.