(Reuters) - Washington Capitals wing Alex Ovechkin made the most of his first appearance in the NHL title series when the Russian scoring machine lifted the playoffs MVP Conn Smythe Trophy after leading his team to a maiden Stanley Cup triumph on Thursday.
The two glittering trophies marked the greatest haul of Ovechkin’s career, a player considered the finest goal-scorer of his generation but also one, who until this year, had never won the National Hockey League’s most prestigious prizes.
The 32-year-old amassed 27 points in 24 post-season games, including a franchise-record 15th goal of the playoffs in the series-clinching 4-3 road win over Vegas Golden Knights.
But it was not just the offensive fireworks that earned the Russian the Conn Smythe Trophy, as Ovechkin also carried out the dirty work such as sacrificing his body to block shots.
“He really stepped up,” Capitals forward Jay Beagle told reporters after Washington won the best-of-seven series 4-1. “He’s always played unreal in the playoffs but he was unreal this year.
“Defensive side of the puck, doing all the right things, huge blocked shot here in the third, he was just sacrificing everything to win this.”
Ovechkin recorded a point in each game of the championship series — three goals and two assists — and joins Pittsburgh’s Evgeni Malkin (2009) as the only Russian-born players to win the Conn Smythe Trophy.
Until this year, Ovechkin had never made it past the halfway mark of the Stanley Cup playoffs and bore the brunt of the blame for the team’s past shortcomings even though he was never truly at fault.
But with time running out on a career that will usher Ovechkin into the Hall of Fame, he played with a greater sense of urgency.
The ultimate goal of a journey that began 14 years ago when he was selected first overall by Washington may have taken longer than many had originally expected but is no less sweet.
“He’s been amazing for us,” Capitals goalie Braden Holtby added. “We follow him because he knows one player doesn’t make a team. If we were going to win this year, we needed every single person, and it started with him.”
Reporting by Frank Pingue in Toronto; Editing by John O'Brien