Alex Ovechkin took out the one Flyers player who could stop him

Capitals fans will probably get to wait until the second round for their team’s annual playoff choke.

Washington forward Alex Ovechkin, the best scorer of his generation, also hits very hard. He is 6-foot-3, 239 pounds. Here he is destroying the Flyers player he most needed to destroy to create space for himself in this series:

The hit, it should be noted, was clean.

Though the Flyers say Sean Couturier will be evaluated today, longtime Flyers beat writer Tim Panaccio is reporting he’s out with an AC sprain:

Couturier is one of the NHL’s most underrated players because he has been, since entering the league at age 18 five years ago, seen as a shut-down center. His offense is coming along, but what makes him special is his ability to slow — and often frustrate — the best players in the league. As Broad Street Hockey points out, the Flyers scored an incredible 71.4 percent of the goals when Ovechkin and Couturier were on the ice together.

For the year, Philadelphia was 6-9-4 in games Couturier missed and 35-18-10 when he played.

Couturier is a perfect playoff player, too. He’s good because he doesn’t take risks and he’s precise with positioning — meaning he’s very good at taking advantage of mistakes. And Ovechkin, as dynamic as he is, takes risks that lead to those mistakes. He’s not a very tidy player.

Obviously blaming Ovechkin wholly for the Capitals’ recent playoff struggles would be unfair, but he’s the face of the franchise and captain of a team that hasn’t been able to get past the second round and has had a tendency to fold dramatically, blowing 3-1 leads last year and in 2010.

In the olden days, like five years ago, this all might have been attributed to the Capitals lacking “heart.” But hockey has come further than any other sport (partly because of where it began) in the evolution of understanding that tangible things — like, you know, possessing the puck, getting it into the offensive zone and shooting it at the net — matter more than heart or grit, which were usually measured by tallying how many players you had on your team who can punch while wearing ice skates.

(Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports)

(Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports)

This Capitals team is ornery, though, and has “leadership” in the form of players willing to throw big hits, like Brooks Orpik. It also has guys who can successfully goad Flyers players into ill-timed fights. like when Tom Wilson (14 goals in three seasons) got Wayne Simmonds (32 goals this year, the most for Philadelphia) to drop the gloves late in a close game. Simmonds took a roughing call that negated a power play and was sent to the locker room.

Washington was a heavy favorite in this series to begin with, having marched through the regular season to win the Presidents Trophy while the Flyers grabbed the last playoff spot on the final week of the season. The Capitals are the deeper and more talented team, and will benefit from having veterans like Justin Williams and Mike Richards to steady things when Ovechkin’s play inevitably dips. But what could have been a long, grueling series — and possibly another letdown, as the Flyers are playing without the weight of expectation in the wake of the death of team founder Ed Snider — now should be quick and painless. Courturier’s loss would be that significant.

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