By Larry Fine
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Alex Ovechkin has size, speed, skill, three NHL Most Valuable Player awards and five goal-scoring titles but the individual accolades have not been enough to give the Russian even a sniff at a Stanley Cup.
The 29-year-old captain of the Capitals tried to will his team into their first Eastern Conference finals together this week by predicting victory over the New York Rangers in Wednesday's do-or-die Game Seven at Madison Square Garden.
"We're going to come back and win the series," he said after Washington's Game Six loss at home earlier this week set up Wednesday's showdown against the Blueshirts.
But Ovechkin, who led the NHL with 53 goals this season and is a finalist for a fourth MVP award, lost another critical game and status as a prognosticator despite supplying Washington's only tally in a stinging 2-1 overtime loss.
He did not, however, lose respect from Capitals head coach Barry Trotz.
"That’s what leaders do," Trotz said about Ovechkin's guarantee. "I have a lot of respect for Ovi in that. That’s the mindset you need to have. If you don’t have that, you might as well pack your bags.”
Ovechkin was inconsolable after Wednesday's defeat.
"I don’t know what to say about it," Ovechkin said softly in the somber Capitals locker room. “It’s a tough situation. There’s nothing to say.”
Trotz, in his first year with Washington after 15 seasons coaching the Nashville Predators, defended his team and Ovechkin after a titanic series in which all seven games were decided by a one-goal margin.
"I kept saying to the guys all year long is that you learn different things from defeat and you learn different things from winning," said Trotz.
It was Washington's third straight playoffs run that ended with a Game Seven loss to the Rangers. The Capitals, who led the series 3-1 before dropping three straight, are 3-11 with a chance to clinch a playoff series since 2009.
"We are learning from our history and are looking it right in the eye and we went after this game. There's no nervousness on our part. We went after the New York Rangers in their own barn and almost pulled it off," said Trotz.
"I said to them all year defeat is not your undertaker and should be your teacher ... you’re going to see the Washington Capitals back here again."
Added Ovechkin: "We had chances. But one moment can end the series and end the game. It's over."
(Editing by Frank Pingue)