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The Tampa Bay Lightning are on the verge of eliminating the #1 seed Washington Capitals from the Eastern Conference Stanley Cup playoffs, up 3-0 in the series after a 4-3 home-ice victory.

No matter if this series ends Wednesday night or four games from now, it is important, if only for one more evening of season, to promote another “emotional constant,” as termed by Hall of Fame goalie Ken Dryden in his hockey gospel titledĀ The Game.

Alex Ovechkin wears the captain’s “C” on his jersey, comes out hitting and scoring – including a PP goal and an assist in this evening’s loss – even though he is the biggest target on the ice for the opponent and their best shut-down players.

Different hometown heroes in the red, white and blue pop-up here and there, but they remain cameos in comparison to the effort and impact of number 8 (excluding young goaltender Michal Neuvirth, but netminders don’t count for this).

In the “Saturday” chapter of his book, Dryden talks about Montreal Canadiens stars Guy Lafleur and Bob Gainey as “our emotional constants, who in big games set the mood and tempo we want.”

Is there anyone on this team, in the playoffs, that can match the intensity, talent and desire of their captain? Are teammates intimidated by his aura on and off the ice, content to let him be the spotlight instead of trying to share it, or better yet, help him fill it?

Ovie is not perfect.

He is still a young player who can turn the puck over, try to do too much on his own and even coast around now and then looking for a golden scoring opportunity. But he has also bought into the team approach even more this year, playing more responsibly in his own end, diving in front of shots and even dropping the gloves.

And if Tampa Bay manages to extinguish the hopes of this 2010-2011 squad, Capitals fans need to look no further than the opponents front office to see, though painful as the premature end always is, there is every reason to be proud, supportive and eager for each season Ovechkin suits up.

Lightning General Manager Steve Yzerman’s early career with the Detroit Red Wings has some striking similarities.

  • Offensive minded player with great stats
  • Personal accolades, awards and media recognition
  • Earned captaincy at young age
  • Sometimes knocked on for not playing enough defensive hockey

Most importantly, it took one of the greatest players and captains in NHL history 12 seasons to make it to the Stanley Cup Finals. The Red Wings then battled 2 more years beyond that before Yzerman finally hoisted the Holy Grail of hockey.

So as we wait for another Capitals player to answer the bell of being an “emotional constant” at the highest level, we can look to the Yzerman of the Red Wings for encouragement and within the Southeast Division to the Yzerman of the Lightning for additional motivation.

And heading into Wednesday night, history will be made or the 2010-2011 version of Washington Capitals will be history.
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