With Ovechkin In Their Hearts, Capitals Look To ‘Win For O’ At Stadium Series
The Washington Capitals are holding Alex Ovechkin close as they take the ice without him for the Stadium Series, and with him out and the stakes high, the team is looking to get him a win as they take things outdoors in North Carolina.
RALEIGH, N.C. — As the Washington Capitals rode the bus to Carter-Finley Stadium on Friday for their outdoor practice and family skate ahead of Saturday's Stadium Series game against the Carolina Hurricanes, their phones lit up with a text from Alex Ovechkin. Their captain, who is back in Russia with family away from the team indefinitely following the death of his father, had two things to tell his teammates: that he loves them and misses them.
That message added some extra juice and emotion for the team as they took the ice in Raleigh. For years, Ovechkin has lifted his teammates up and is usually the heartbeat and centerpiece of festivities like this. Now, it's time to return the favor, and the best way to do that beyond thoughts, prayers and words of support, is by showing up on the ice and pulling out a win.
"If you're inside our locker room, if you can't find one reason or another to be ultra-motivated for this match, I don't know if you got a heartbeat," T.J. Oshie said.
Washington has dropped its last six games overall without Ovechkin, including all three without him so far this season. Since 2021-22, the team has won just one game without No. 8 in the mix. Looking at Saturday's game, though, it's a must-win and imperative to stop that trend, as the team is not only looking to dedicate a win to their captain but is also playing on the big stage against a Metropolitan Division rival and sitting one point out of playoff position.
"You miss him. Like, crazy things like this, he's much a fun guy to have around. He's the perfect guy to market for the game of hockey and big events like this on the biggest stage," Tom Wilson said. "It's weird not having him around, he's such a leader for us… we want to do our best for him. He's a guy that you miss big time when he's not around, so all we can do is support him."
READ MORE ON WHN: Washington Capitals Stadium Series Notebook, Injury Updates
With Ovechkin out and other players dealing with injury, the Capitals are counting on each other top step up and help fill those skates. However, filling in for No. 8 goes beyond scoring goals. It's also about his leadership, his contagious positivity, physicality and passion that he brings to the ice.
"It's a big role to fill, but I feel like it's up to everyone to step up and try to fill that role," Nicklas Backstrom added. "It's going to be hard because he's one of the best players of all time, but especially in the situation we're in now, I think everyone needs to play a little bit better and make sure we're trying to fill his role."
"He's an important piece to our team and important piece of our success, but you know, we've still got to push on, we got to win games for our organization, for the move up the standings, and we got to win for Alex, who's not here, and I feel like the guys know that," head coach Peter Laviolette added. "We certainly miss him and support him… he's such a big personality, loves the game, loves practice, loves to come to the rink, loves his teammates. And when you miss a piece like that, your captain, it's hard not to feel that. But in the same sense, we have responsibility to step up and make sure we play the game the right way."
When the puck drops at 8 p.m. ET outdoors in North Carolina, the Capitals said they will be ready to take on the Hurricanes, who they had an passionate meeting with earlier in the week. And then, when he returns, they will do everything they can to continue to help carry him and Washington forward down the stretch.
"We need to — we want to get a win for our captain, for O, under the big lights out there," Oshie said, adding later, "Our hearts are broken for him, but we're absolute here 100 percent for any support that he needs or his family need. In times like this and even just interviews or the big stage or bright lights out there, that's where big No. 8 always shines, so we're missing him and thinking about him and wish he was here but glad he's able to be with his family during this tough time."