This can still be Alexander Ovechkin's moment.
Sure, another may come. But at some point, if Ovechkin wants to be regarded as something more than a hockey version of Dominique Wilkins, a great scorer and that's about it, he has to do something more, like turn a lost cause into, at the very least, a fight to the finish.
You know, like Jonathan Toews did for Chicago in the first round.
Yet again, the Caps are on the verge of failing terribly in the NHL playoffs, and this is surely becoming a broken record, a talented team that turns out to be much less than the sum of its parts.
Ovechkin is finishing his sixth NHL season and will be 26 in the fall. He's no longer hockey's future; he's the present. But it's been made abundantly clear in these playoffs that, unlike his arch-rival Sidney Crosby, Ovechkin hasn't added to his game or developed in ways that make him more difficult to defend and his team tougher to beat.
It's the same old, same old, and what Josh Gorges and Hal Gill easily snuffed out last spring, Eric Brewer is snuffing out this spring. It's a bull-rush charge down the right wing and an attempt to step inside against a left-handed shooting defenceman, usually from 25 feet out or more. Or it's the one-timer from 50 feet. But that rush almost never sees Ovechkin dart to the outside and then cut to the net, or work a give-and-go with a teammate, or make a move and then find somebody else open. The obvious contrast in this series with Tampa Bay has been watching Marty St. Louis, Vinny Lecavalier and Steve Stamkos work together to create chances for each other, while Ovechkin stubbornly goes solo time after time.
"They are uncanny when they want to get a goal," said an admiring Mike Knuble of the Caps about the Tampa attack. "It's like they just snap their fingers or hit a button. They just dial it up. You can see it. It's like they flip a switch. When they are down, it's just like they think, 'We know we are going to score.' I don't know what it is … it just leaves you flabbergasted."
That's how people used to talk about Washington. But these days, the Caps aren't so flabbergasting, at least not in a good way, and Ovechkin seems so. . .predictable, really. If he won't change, or adapt, it's hard to see at this point how his team can succeed, particularly a team that is very young at key positions and lacks stand-on-your-head goaltending.
Artistically, last year was Ovechkin's worst season. Statistically, this year has been, and all this with 10 years still to go on his 13-year, $124 million contract that didn't make a lot of sense at the time and makes less now.
It remains remarkable how these long-term committments so often produce less-than-splendid results, but teams still believe that it will be different for them.
Right now, Washington's decision to go long with Ovechkin and Niklas Backstrom (10 years, $67 million) is looking not so different than the 2007 move by the Ottawa Senators to lock up Dany Heatley and Jason Spezza to long-term contracts in a bid to nail down the future.
The Sens were coming off a Stanley Cup final appearance, Heatley was a 50-goal shooter and Spezza a better point-per-game centre who could also score. Four years later, the Senators are at the bottom of the league, Heatley is in San Jose (without much in Ottawa to show for the trade) and Spezza is no longer a point-per-game player.
We can debate the reasons. But the contracts obviously didn't pan out for the team, and certainly didn't secure the future.
The Caps, meanwhile, have locked themselves into deals with Ovechkin and Backstrom for even longer, with both under contract until 2020, and Oveckin a year after that. Ovechkin's performance and numbers have clearly declined. Backstrom's production fell to 65 points this year from 101 points a year ago, and in these playoffs he's been a disaster, with no goals and just two assists.
Make no mistake about it, these are high end players, world class players, players that any team around the NHL would be glad to have, although perhaps without those contracts attached.
But five years after everyone laughed at the New York islanders for signing Rick DiPietro to a 15-year contract, teams are still signing these deals, and they rarely seem to produce even the same production from the athlete as before, let alone enhanced production.
Maybe it's the money that takes the edge off the player. Maybe it's the scrutiny, or the pressure, or the extra attention. Who knows exactly why. But it's worth noting Crosby was off to arguably his best season this year before being injured, and by comparison his is a shorter-term deal with only three more years to run.
Ovechkin and Backstrom, of course, have all the time in the world to turn this story around. But the Caps would like it to be now against the Tampa Bay Lightning.