By Ian Oland
The Washington Capitals will be without Alex Ovechkin for the third straight game as Ovi remains in Russia with his family after the tragic passing of his father Mikhail. The Capitals play the Carolina Hurricanes in the 2023 Stadium Series game in Raleigh, Saturday night.
Ovechkin has still kept in touch with his teammates and sent a special message to the Capitals while they were on the bus heading to practice at Carter-Finlay Stadium Friday night.
Ovechkin’s text read, “I love you guys. Miss you,” Tom Wilson said to NHL.com.
“You can imagine the support we’ve given him,” TJ Oshie said. “Specific words, they’re in the group chat for a reason, so we’ll keep them there, but just words of support and prayers. We’re thinking about him at all times.”
The Capitals have lost both games they’ve been without Ovechkin in the lineup this week, falling to Carolina on Tuesday and the Florida Panthers on Thursday. The consecutive home losses, combined with a poor stretch of three regulation wins in their last 15 games, have the Capitals currently slotted out of the playoffs.
With such a huge spotlight on this nationally televised matchup, the Capitals are feeling the loss of their captain even more than usual in the franchise’s fourth career outdoor game. Ovi had played in the previous three. That leaves Capitals center Nicklas Backstrom as the only player who’s appeared in them all.
“Well, I think when a special player like him is out, it’s a big hole to fill,” Backstrom said. “It’s up to everyone to step up and try to fill that role. It’s hard because he’s one of the best players of all time. Especially, in this situation we’re in now, everyone needs to play a little bit better.”
“In times like this, even just interviews or the big stage with the bright lights out there, it’s where big number eight shines,” Oshie noted. “We’re missing him and thinking about him, but glad he’s able to be with his family during this tough time.”
To get back into a wild card spot, the Capitals will need to at least earn a point against the Carolina Hurricanes tonight. The team sits in ninth place in the Eastern Conference standings, one point behind the New York Islanders for the second wild-card spot.
“If you can’t, inside our locker room, find one reason or other to be ultra-motivated for this match I don’t know if you’ve got a heartbeat,” Oshie said. “We want to get a win for our captain, for O, under the big lights out there which is special. We have an older team with a lot of family, a lot of kids on the team. To get a win, while they’re in the stands there, under these circumstances, it’d be super easy to wake up [on Saturday] and rock.”
The Caps played the Hurricanes close on Tuesday, but eventually fell 3-2 after a Trevor van Riemsdyk game-tying goal was whistled back due to goaltender interference.
“We have to play good hockey,” Evgeny Kuznetsov said. “I feel like, this game could turn either way. You just have to have a good start. If we play our game we can be successful.”
An empathetic Kuzy also admitted that he was struggling to wrap his head around the emotions his close friend was going through.
“It’s tough to even imagine that and what he’s dealing with,” Kuznetsov said. “We’ll support him as much as we can. I believe that when he comes back we’re going to do everything in our hands to make him feel comfortable, try for a couple hours forget about life and enjoy a hockey game.”
The players agree that the best way the Capitals can help Ovi deal with the loss from afar, as of now, is to come together and play inspired hockey against one of the best teams in the league.
“We should win for him, for his family, for sure,” Dmitry Orlov said to NHL.com. “It’s a big reason. We cannot just play like [the past two games]. It stinks. It doesn’t help anyone, not him and not us as a group. So, we have to bring everything [on Saturday], get these two points and then move from there.”
“He wants to be here more than anybody, but he needs to be there for his family,” Tom Wilson added. “It’s a really tough, sad time, but we’re supporting him and doing our best to get a win. I think that’s all we can do for now and I think he’d be happy if we can get that done.”
Russian Machine Never Breaks is not associated with the Washington Capitals; Monumental Sports, the NHL, or its properties. Not even a little bit.
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