Alex Ovechkin further cemented his place in NHL history in 2018, leading the Washington Capitals to their first Stanley Cup in the franchise's 43 years.
Amaze. Inspire. Surprise. You’ll be hearing those words a lot in the coming weeks—together, they cut to the heart of why we love sports in the first place. So in the days leading up to the naming of SI’s Sportsperson we’ll be looking back and shining a light on the athletes, moments and teams (and one horse) who did one—or all—of those things in 2018. There can be only one Sportsperson. But it has been a year full of deserving candidates.
Thirty-six hours after it finally happened, Alex Ovechkin was parked inside a windowless employee break room at Nationals Park, taking what seemed like an unwelcome respite from the revelry. There was a baseball game happening that Saturday afternoon, but the truth is most fans had turned out to greet the newly minted Stanley Cup champions and their shiny silver spoils. A small group had even gathered down the hall, held back by several overmatched ushers, their chants loud enough to reach Ovechkin’s ears through the closed door.
“THANK YOU O-VI!”
The moment belonged to them all, together, a city drenched with both champagne and catharsis. It’s why the Washington Capitals would hit the streets over the coming days, swimming in fountains and singing from rooftops, celebrating the franchise’s first title with everyone who wanted to share. Their captain led the crapulous charge, naturally, not dissimilar to how Ovechkin had paced Washington throughout the playoffs: full steam, focused and without emotional reservation. Remember all those reaction GIFs? There he was, eyes closed and neck craned after eliminating Pittsburgh in Game 6 of the second round … head buried in his gloves after Braden Holtby’s miracle save in Game 2 of the finals against Vegas … body shaking with joy as commissioner Gary Bettman handed over the Stanley Cup after Game 5.
“Still can’t believe it,” Ovechkin said a day and a half later. “I’m pretty sure it’s going to take a couple more days to realize. We just happy.”
As we talked in the break room, I reminded Ovechkin about another conversation that we had near the end of the 2015–16 season. At one point we were discussing his position in NHL history—a topic to which Ovechkin is acutely attuned despite almost never watching hockey in his spare time—and how he had little more to accomplish beyond the sport’s ultimate prize. “Nobody remembers who’s second place,” he had said. “Everyone remembers the winner.”
A ringless Ovechkin would’ve gone down as his generation’s greatest scorer anyway, but Lord Stanley sure looks good as the first reference on a career résumé. In getting there, Ovechkin finished his 10th postseason with 15 goals and 12 assists, joining Pittsburgh’s Evgeni Malkin as the only Russian-born Conn Smythe Trophy winners. Washington, meanwhile, became the first team ever to overcome four series deficits and clinch each on the road. As Ovechkin had promised, coining something of an in-house catchphrase, “We’re not going to be suck this year.”
Given how the season has started so far, it’s safe to say that Ovechkin and the Caps aren’t going to suck in ‘18–19 either. They lost an early December rematch with Vegas, 4-3, but the 33-year-old still scored for the 20th time in 27 games, tied for second league-wide, while averaging his most ice time (21:12) since ‘10–11. After a month or so of Stanley Cup keg stands, Ovechkin had found that resuming summer workouts helped recenter his focus on an unknown challenge: a title defense. Even if that never happens, though, he and Washington will always have the spring of 2018, when the big weight lifted and the long wait ended. As Ovechkin said at Nats Park, still smelling faintly of beer, “I think my legacy, you know, everybody going to remember me now, for sure. That’s something special. That’s something cool.”