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May 22, 2018

5/11/2018 7:28:00 AM
It's finally Ovi time

Nick Sabato
River News reporter

For the past couple of years, the knock on the NBA has been the playoffs are predictable. That we know where things are headed in June - with a Golden State Warriors-Cleveland Cavaliers matchup.

Meanwhile the NHL Playoffs, many say, have been more interesting. Even Hall of Famer and NBA on TNT analyst Charles Barkley said this on TV last year. Predictably, though, the past two seasons have ended with the Pittsburgh Penguins winning the Stanley Cup.

This year is in fact different. Regardless of who wins Game 7 of the Winnipeg Jets-Nashville Predators series, the final four teams are going to have a combined total of one Stanley Cup ever - the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2004.

Still, the NHL lacks what the NBA has a bounty of - stars.

Hockey has stars within the sport, but few non-fans know top players like Connor McDavid or Sidney Crosby.

There is one player remaining who has the skill, the personality and the media market to be a monster star for the game, if not for bad luck and a different ethnic origin.

Alexander Ovechkin has been one of the most popular players in the post-2005 lockout era amongst hockey fans, but his popularity has not reached those who don't watch the game regularly.

Part of the reason is due to being Russian. The language barrier is often a problem for the NHL, which can limit interviews, commercials and endorsements for the game's top players. It also hasn't helped that Ovechkin's teams haven't reached the Eastern Conference Finals until Monday's Game 6 win over Crosby and the Penguins.

Perhaps a run to the Stanley Cup Finals would help Ovechkin, 32, become more of a household name and cement his legacy. The aforemention obstacles has also limited him within hockey circles.

It has been quite some time since Ovechkin has been mentioned as one of the top players in the game or candidate for the Hart Trophy as league MVP, despite leading the NHL in goals five of the last six seasons.

Since entering the league together, Ovechkin and Crosby in 2005-2006, they have been tied together like Peyton Manning and Tom Brady, but recently Crosby has distances himself in the competition with many pundits, particularly after winning three Cups by beating the Capitals along the way.

Meanwhile, Ovechkin has three Hart Trophies to Crosby's two. He's also the best goal scorer the game has seen since Wayne Gretzky.

In his 13 NHL seasons, Ovechkin has led the NHL in goals seven times, the same amount of times he's hit the 50-goal barrier. Even Gretzky only led the league in goals four times. The Great Eight needs to hit 50 just twice more to tie The Great One and Mike Bossy for the most all-time.

Should Ovechkin continue his career into his late 30s, he could have the chance to beat Gretzky's goal record, something thought to be unrealistic to ever break.

Regardless of what the future holds, there have been very few players in NHL to score 50 goals, play in front of the net and in the corners like a third liner and have the shooting power of a defenseman.

With 15 points in 12 playoff games this year, he's playing better than ever and the NHL should be rooting for Washington to advance to play for the Cup, because he's the last player left in the playoffs that can move the ratings needle.

Nick Sabato may be reached at nick@lakelandtimes.com or via Twitter @NickSabatoLT.

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