Ovechkin enjoying Rangers fans' taunts
So the Rangers got a nose in front of their Eastern Conference semifinals with the Washington Capitals. But, ultimately, that scornful new countdown chant their strident fans repeatedly hurl at Washington headliner Alex Ovechkin is an honorific, and Ovechkin knows it.
"Yeah," Ovechkin said of the organized yell, at once clever and cliched. "I can't wait. It's always nice to hear the fans are booing you or they're cheering you. You know, it's nice. [It means] you're still out there and still get some respect."
It begins each period with 8:08 to play, referencing Ovechkin's uniform number, and goes from "8-7-6 . . ." to a thoroughly uncreative declaration of Ovechkin's lack of value (in the judgment of Madison Square Garden patrons). But in effect, it serves as a canticle of praise, an acknowledgment that Ovechkin -- perhaps more than any other Washington player, with the possible exception of goalie Braden Holtby -- has the ability to shave the Rangers' playoff beards.
Having scored the winning goal against the Rangers in Game 2 of this series and the first in Saturday's Washington Game 4 victory, Ovechkin Monday night assisted on Brooks Laich's tying goal in the second period. And, of course, Ovechkin's charging penalty on Rangers defenseman Dan Girardi on Saturday further raised the temperature in the passionately partisan Stanley Cup playoffs.
Yet, rather than give him the cold shoulder, Rangers fans shower attention on Ovechkin.
"On the ice, I don't hear," he said. "On the bench, I hear it. And want to laugh, but I can't."
Holtby was the more prominent Washington presence Monday night, yet the skills of The Great Eight, as Ovechkin has been called, stand out as obviously as the yellow laces he has been wearing on his skates since he was a young teenager in his native Russia because "I thought it was cool."
With a hop and three quick strides, he goes from a standstill to full flight, a careening challenge to score -- he leads Washington in playoff goals, with four -- or to fling his 6-3, 230-pound body into an opponent -- he is second on his team in hits.
It all just seems to fuel that Garden countdown chant, which isn't even original, modeled as it is on a worshipful call started last month by the Ottawa Senators fans in recognition of their veteran captain, Daniel Alfredsson. The Ottawa faithful would count down from 11 with 11:11 to play in each period -- Alfredsson wears No. 11 -- finishing with an "Alfie! Alfie! Alfie!" cry.
Much less refined is the Rangers fans' reverse message for Ovechkin amid the action-movie suspense of a series that Rangers coach John Tortorella called a "straight-ahead, hard series; most facets of it, harder than the Ottawa series."
Meanwhile, whether the Rangers fans intend it or not, their continued recognition of the Great Eight's imposing presence is like calling him Gospodin Ovechkin -- a respectful title of address, similar to "sir."