Originally posted on Red Light District Hockey  |  Last updated 4/25/12

The debate of “Who’s better: Sidney Crosby or Alex Ovechkin?” is a thing of the past – or at least it’s been put on hold for the moment.  But the biggest knock on Ovechkin has always been his inability to win the big game compared to Crosby’s ability to do the opposite.  And it’s safe to say Ovechkin is staring at a big game tonight.

The Washington Capitals had a chance Sunday to knock out the defending champs, but Tyler Seguin had other ideas.  But even if the Washington Capitals lose tonight’s Game 7 in Boston, it still won’t match the immense disappointment from their collapse in 2010 against eighth-seeded Montreal.  Also, tonight won’t be the biggest game Ovechkin has played in or will play in his career.

Don’t discount the importance of this game, though, for the Capitals captain.

Since the Capitals have become a regular postseason participant back in 2008, they have played in their fair share of Game 7’s – four to be exact, all at home.  They have won just once, back in 2009 when Sergei Fedorov’s late third-period goal propelled the Capitals over the Rangers.

The three Game 7 losses have been dissatisfying in their own right.  Ovechkin’s Capitals had a Cinderella-type second half run in 2007-08, only to lose to Philadelphia in overtime.  2009 was supposed to be their breakthrough postseason, but the Capitals were embarrassed by rival Pittsburgh, 6-2.  The following year they won the Presidents’ Trophy, proceeding to fall apart in the first round after holding a 3-1 series lead against Jaroslav Halak and Montreal.

Tonight’s tilt in Boston may be the least amount of pressure the Capitals will face in a Game 7 since the Ovechkin era began.  (You could make an argument that 2008 had the least pressure, given they were playing with house money and the group was in their first playoffs together.)

Nevertheless, it’s still a big game for Ovechkin.

Ovechkin has actually produced in the aforementioned Game 7’s, tallying four points in the four games.  However, the stat that counts the most – especially for superstars – is wins, and Ovechkin is 1-3 in Game 7’s in his career.  (His Russian Olympic team also fell short of the gold medal in 2010 after being thwarted by Canada, a loss that ‘Ovie’ surely has instilled in the back of his brain.)

Back to tonight’s game.

Ovechkin still has the reputation of never being able to win the Big One; it may take winning a Stanley Cup to rid that status.  Whether he makes a critical mistake or scores two goals, if his team loses a big game a lot of blame is placed on him, fairly or unfairly.  That’s just the way it is and the way it will be until, again, he wins the Big One.

He has played a role in this series thus far, especially the last few games.  Is he the dominant player from two years ago?  No, but he’s still effective.  He’s still a threat in the offensive zone.  He scored the game-tying goal in the third period of Game 6 before Seguin sent the Verizon Centers fans home unhappy.

A win tonight can help Ovechkin’s ‘legacy’, for lack of a better word.

Since the Bruins are at home with the leg up on matchups, defenseman Zdeno Chara will be blanketing Ovechkin all night.  If he can finally break through (one assist in the three games in Boston this series) and score a big goal that helps the Capitals pull the upset on the road against the defending champs – a team that, let’s not forget, was 3-0 in Game 7’s last spring – it could be a burden off of Ovechkin’s shoulders.

If he goes without registering a point and the Capitals’ roller coaster season ends tonight, Ovechkin, who is currently displeased with his ice-time, will hear even more doubters telling him that he can’t win when it counts – which is what most, if not all superstars are ultimately judged by.

The oft-scrutinized captain could have a bounce-back 2012-13 campaign and score 40, 50 goals, but it won’t matter to the pundits until he wins in the playoffs.

Tonight’s not the Big One, per se, but it’s an opportunity for Ovechkin to prove he can be on the right side of those handshakes that will succeed tonight’s big game.

Photo credit: Getty Images
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