Alex Ovechkin has been through some gut-wrenching handshake lines in his career. None hurt more than the one on Wednesday following Russia’s 3-1 loss to Finland in the quarterfinal of the Olympic men’s hockey tournament.
Russia’s loss, which eliminated them from medal contention for the third straight Olympics, left the host team with a series of what-ifs?
What if that apparent go-ahead goal scored by Fedor Tyutin in the closing minutes of Russia’s shootout loss to the Americans had counted, as it likely would have in the NHL?
What if Jonathan Quick’s hard right-to-left move had not resulted in his left post coming an inch or two off the ice?
What if the Russians, and not the Americans, had won that game, received two days off, and faced Slovenia in their next game?
What if Russian Olympic coach Zinetula Bilyaletdinov had started Sergei Bobrovsky against the Finns instead of Semyon Varlamov, who surrendered three goals on 15 shots before being replaced by Bobrovsky, who stopped all seven shots he faced?
But the question that will dog Ovechkin for the next four years is this:
What if the 28-year-old Capitals captain, considered by many the greatest goal scorer in Russian history, had been able to score more than the one goal he netted on his first shot of the tournament?
After scoring that goal 75 seconds into Russia’s 5-2 win over Slovenia on Feb. 13, Ovechkin was stopped 23 straight times in four games. Against the Finns, Ovechkin managed a tournament-low three shots on Tuukka Rask, who stopped 37 of 38 shots to move Finland into its semifinal game against rival Sweden.
Ovechkin logged 18:30 in ice time, but was hounded by a strong Finnish defense corps that kept rolling three defense pairs.
With his family staying nearby, it remains to be seen if Ovechkin will remain in Sochi until the Closing Ceremonies on Sunday.
If there is a positive in any of this, it’s the fact Ovechkin will have an entire week before playing his next game for the Capitals on Feb. 27.
That’s a hollow consolation right now for a man who has carried the Olympic dreams of his native Russia since literally being handed the torch in Greece last September.