Neil Best Newsday columnist Neil Best

Neil Best first worked at Newsday in 1982, then returned in 1985. His SportsWatch column debuted in 2005.

GREENBURGH, N.Y. - Ovi. It sounds more like the name of a cuddly Russian Olympics mascot than a Russian bear of a hockey player.

But there it is, so common that even opposing players sometimes use the nickname, as if Alex Ovechkin were a beloved former teammate rather than a famously fearsome foe.

The reason is familiarity, after his many years as No. 1A on the list of world's best players, alongside Sidney Crosby, and in the case of the Rangers after many previous regular and postseason encounters.

And the guy still is only 29, and coming off an NHL-best 53-goal season, 25 of them on power plays.

It has been fascinating listening to Rangers defensemen this week talk about dealing with Ovi, displaying a level of detail unusual for a quickie scouting report -- and unusual for their willingness to share information with reporters.

That's because there is nothing to hide, and nothing new to say about a guy who illustrated his lack of subtlety when he rammed the Islanders' Thomas Hickey into the boards from behind in Game 7 Monday.

advertisement | advertise on newsday

It was an infraction that should have been called, even in a game in which the referees made it clear nothing short of drawing and quartering would be penalized.

The move was in keeping with the Capitals' motto this postseason, which coach Barry Trotz articulated in the winning locker room Monday in a video posted by Monumental Network:

"We talked about going through it instead of around it. We went [expletive] through it today."

Anyway, back to Ovechkin: He has 22 goals and 15 assists in 39 career regular-season games against the Blueshirts. He also has 10 goals and nine assists in his 26 career playoff meetings.

Plus as an added bonus for casual fans of the sport, he actually looks the part of a Soviet bad guy from a cold-war spy movie, a persona he spoofed in a 2011 ESPN "SportsCenter" ad.

@Newsday

Primary Ovi duty will fall to the Rangers' most accomplished defensive pair, Dan Girardi and Ryan McDonagh, who have done battle with the big guy for years.

"I think we have the perfect defensemen corps to play him, and I think he knows that," Derick Brassard said after practice Wednesday.

Again, no secrets here.

Said Girardi: "I think you have to be up in his face no matter what side he's on. We don't want to give him too much time with the puck. He has a great shot that he can throw by you. He has a real heavy shot."

Now that fellow defenseman Kevin Klein can raise his previously broken left arm, he can attest to that. It was a shot by Ovechkin seven weeks ago that broke it.

advertisement | advertise on newsday

McDonagh offered an interesting Xs and Os take on handling Ovechkin for you hockey nerds out there:

"He likes to make that move where he carries it in and makes a move to this forehand. You want to try to support Dan in the aspect of trying to take that ice away from him. If it's a 2-on-2 situation or 1-on-2 situation he likes to get ahead of his guy sometimes.

"So if I can recognize that and it's them two on an island, hopefully I can come over and cut that ice out for him so maybe he's forced to go to his backhand or shoot it."

Not that the Rangers are intimidated by Ovi and his friends. They just won a series in which they limited Crosby to two goals and left Evgeni Malkin tied with me in total playoff points.

Bring him on.

advertisement | advertise on newsday

"It comes down to their top guys and what they can do, how we can shut them down," goaltender Henrik Lundqvist said. "It's always going to be a big part of winning and losing: shutting down the big guys."