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Ovechkin flat in frustrating first-round loss

Montreal Canadiens' Benoit Pouliot (L) sends Washington Capitals' Alex Ovechkin crashing into the boards during the first period of action in Game 7 of their NHL Eastern Conference quarter-final hockey series in Washington, April 28, 2010.

JIM YOUNG/REUTERS

It happened in Game 6 and was an uncharacteristic play for an instinctive, predatory hockey player: Having gone around the water tower that is Hal Gill, Alexander Ovechkin didn't barrel to the net. He didn't shoot. He passed - to no one.

Ovechkin is usually remembered for his bone-rattling hits or ripping wrist shots off the goal post and in, but in the 2010 NHL playoffs, the enduring memories will be of things such as blind passes, missed attempts at holding the puck in on the power play, and wayward shots.

And for all the plaudits the Washington Capitals winger has won for his alluring mix of power, skill and personality - remember the sly shot about Montreal Canadiens goalie Jaroslav Halak's quaking hands? - he will now face serious questions as to his ability to marshal his team to victory.

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He's also lost some ground to Pittsburgh Penguins centre Sidney Crosby in the best-player-of-his-generation discussion.

Washington forward Brooks Laich said in the early going of the best-of-seven series that ended last night: "Everybody says we're a skilled team, well, only one skill matters to me, and that's the skill of winning."

While it's unfair to blame Washington's first-round exit on one player, the Caps are Ovechkin's team - and if one can't quite affirm that he lacks the skill Laich talked about, it seems to be in short supply in the Caps room.

Ovechkin's regular-season body of work - the Hart Memorial Trophies, scoring championships and a first-overall finish - stands up to anyone's, but come April, things get complicated.

If Crosby has won the Stanley Cup - having played in the last two finals - and an Olympic gold medal, Ovechkin is still waiting for silverware.

Where Crosby has won eight playoff series (and counting), Ovechkin has won just one - an exhausting seven-gamer against the New York Rangers in the first round last season.

He is now 1-3 in Game 7s in the last two seasons.

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In the games where Ovechkin played well, the Caps dominated. He also went on a four-game goal-scoring streak, but in the end, it wasn't enough.

But as Washington head coach Bruce Boudreau said last Tuesday: "If he was to rise to the occasion … then everybody will build that up probably twice as much as it should have been. And if he doesn't succeed, they'll build it up twice as much as it should have been."

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About the Author
National Correspondent

Sean Gordon joined the Globe's Quebec bureau in 2008 and covers the Canadiens, Alouettes and Impact, as well as Quebec's contingent of Olympic athletes. More

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