Mike Milbury Loves Ovechkin
NBC's Mike Milbury became a brief storyline during last year's playoffs, with his accidental "Crapitals" reference and his intentional suggestion that Alex Ovechkin was playing like a dog early in his first playoff appearance. That led to a Ted Leonsis blog post at the time, and all sorts of fleeting outrage from Caps fans.
Well, that was '08. This is '09. And Milbury is now positively effervescent in his praise of Ovechkin's Caps. This was from yesterday's broadcast:
"Best player in the NHL by far, Pierre, I think you've got that right. This guy's passion just lifts his team, not only on the scoreboard but almost spiritually, emotionally when they need it most....When a player like this not only is the most productive player in the league, or one of the most productive players, and leads the league in hits and shots and plays in such an entertaining style, you've got to believe that he's gonna be one of the great ones of all time. You can't say it now, he's got to find a way to win a ring and stand the test of time over the next decade or so. No question, he's on the right track to being amongst the top two to five greatest players that ever played the game."
Not too many Dalmatians on that "greatest of all time" list. During the third period yesterday, when the game was in hand, I chatted with Milbury about his comments last year, this year's excitement and the Caps' playoff prospects.
This is your first time in the building this year?
First time this year, yeah
I guess you don't really get any sense of what it's like out there?
Well I'm out before the game. No, it's a lively place. It should be. They've got a good team, an exciting team, and the best player in the business.
Does it surprise you to see the environment change so quickly?
I mean, there was about 25 years when it wasn't very exciting. And it speaks to the measure of Ovechkin's ability to light up the building, but not just him, because they have a whole host of other guys.
Do you still hear stuff from Caps fans about last year?
I'm not out there enough. I'm out there during the warm-ups. And that's ancient history. And we've said enough positive things about Ovechkin and the Caps, I hope. I mean, he was having a bad series, he figured it out and got better as it went on, so it's my job to sort of lay it on the table....No, listen, I tried to make some fun of the mis-speak I made and I thought it was good-natured fun. Some people were a little sensitive; you know, Ted might have been one of them. But I went upstairs and saw him before the game, we chatted about Ovechkin and about the Caps in general, and to me hey, nothing wrong with a little controversy here and there. It sells a few tickets.
Did you ever regret saying that?
No. Why? He was playing badly. I mean, he needed--like all young players--he needed time to figure out the difference between regular season and playoffs, and he did. Coaches get ready to focus on a guy like Ovechkin, and he needed to find a way to get away from the coverages.
Do you think it would be different this year? I mean, once he's been through it once?
I would hope so, for his sake and the team's sake, yeah. It's called experience.
Do you think this is a team that could do anything in the playoffs or do you have some of the concerns....
Your goaltender's gonna have to be better than he's played, consistently. And if they can get the goaltending....And they're a little loose on occasion, which is kind of the nature of their team, but when you go in to a playoff series and you're playing, let's say they got to the finals and they were playing Detroit, they can't play loosey-goosey with that group. I mean, I would pay money to watch [the Caps], I would NOT pay money to watch Detroit, and part of it's because they do make mistakes and Detroit just doesn't make any. But you can't beat them playing Las Vegas style.
You would pay money to see these guys?
I would. I would pay money just to watch Ovechkin. But the other team, it's just a surgical, tactical mission. I love watching [Ovechkin] play. Anybody who's a hockey fan would love to watch him play.
(And I wrote to Leonsis to ask about their pre-game meeting. "We had a nice chat," Leonsis wrote me back. "At the end he asked if we were cool; I said yes we are. I then said, 'Let us hug it out.' He laughed. We hugged.")
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