“This moment...” Alexander Ovechkin started, flanked at the podium by the Stanley Cup and the Conn Smythe Trophy. He never once that I saw looked at the latter, but he kept glancing toward the big one, the one he had kissed and lofted and screamed into and shared with every single one of his teammates and coworkers. “...we waiting a long, long time.”
It’s insane to think that any of this should have or could have served as a referendum on Oveckin’s legacy. He is who he is: One of the greatest scorers in NHL history, and just so great at scoring that every other aspect of his game gets knocked and underrated. Who he was was the best NHL player to never win a Stanley Cup—yes, better than Lindros, better than Bure, better than Dionne. Who he was, mind you. No longer.
He is a cartoon, sometimes, his round face and his squashed nose and his very Russian haircut and all that hair, everywhere. The tendency toward softness in the offseasons, but pure bulk, pure menace on the ice. Here was Ovechkin before Game 5, the game when who he was changed to who he is. Hindsight bias, yes, absolutely, but: This man was not going to lose that game.
The running story of this postseason was how obviously and how deeply Ovechkin wanted this, and how little interest he had in pretending otherwise. The reaction shots of him on the bench, living and dying with play, were the best story of the playoffs. He has just been so visual, clearly manifesting the heart-ripping tension and joy we’d like to believe all athletes go through—because we as fans sure as hell are—but to which they’ll never admit publicly, not until it’s all over.
And when it was finally all over, there was one last chapter of the same story written all over Ovechkin’s face. The moral of that story is that the journey is not more important than the destination.