So much had been made of Alex Ovechkin's comments coming into Game 7 -- his guarantee that the Capitals would win and that the Rangers were scared of their strength and their size.
From the outside, the Russian's words sounded bombastic, an overconfidence befitting even Rocky's Drago. After Wednesday night's 2-1 overtime defeat to the Rangers at Madison Square Garden, they just seemed like hollow grandstanding. But the truth is a bit more complicated, as evidenced by Ovechkin's somber words after the loss: His failed prediction was as much a challenge to himself as it was to the boys in blue.
"It's over," he said simply. "I feel bad because we were so close to finishing the series here but we didn't and they came back . . . We played a great first period, we don't give them much and then we made mistakes."
Asked if proving Ovechkin wrong was extra sweet, Marc Staal said, "Absolutely."
Yes, Ovechkin scored in the first period, but that won't be enough to quell the concerns about his ability to produce when it matters most. His Capitals never have advanced past the conference semifinals, and his Game 7 record is 3-6.
Ovechkin's goal in the first period broke a Game 7 drought dating to 2009. In three Game 7s, spanning f2012 to 2013, he was off the scoresheet. He finally broke that streak against the Islanders this year with an assist.
The goal drought ended midway through the first, when Ovechkin took a perfect feed from Marcus Johansson, came around on a backdoor cut and scored over Henrik Lundqvist's glove at 12:50.
For Capitals coach Barry Trotz, this indicated that Ovechkin was exorcising his Game 7 demons. "My top guys delivered . . . they grew up today," he said of Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom. "I know people went after Alex after he said that [guarantee], but I love to go to the foxhole with guys who stick their neck out."
Still, history will continue to haunt Ovechkin, and Trotz seemed to understand that. He insisted, though, that something has changed.
"We learn from our history and we looked it right in the eye and went after this game," Trotz said. "We almost pulled it out.
"Defeat isn't your undertaker, it's your teacher."