"He's on another level," said Capitals defenseman John Carlson. "Everyone kind of reacts to stuff differently, and he's always been that brash celebrator. It's great to see, and he's as engaged as anyone could ever be, I think. It shows in his game, and it shows in the effect that it has on the rest of us."
Coach Barry Trotz said Ovechkin set the tone over the past few games for Washington, including Game 3, during which he scored the first goal for the Capitals.
"He's very passionate, as everyone knows. It was the right thing that in our first playoff game at home in the Final that Alex would score the first goal," Trotz said.
Here are five other things we learned from Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final.
Kuzy and the Beegs
The injury suffered by Evgeny Kuznetsov that knocked him out of Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final might have been greatly overstated, or at least overspeculated. Trotz downplayed the severity of whatever ailed the center after taking a Brayden McNabb check in the first period and leaving the game. Kuznetsov said he felt fine by Saturday morning.
"I felt like I could help the team. It seemed to work out pretty well for us," he said.
Boy, did it. He assisted on Ovechkin's second-period goal in Game 3, then scored the eventual game winner on an odd-man break with Jay Beagle at 12:50 of the second.
"That shot is not my strong side," Kuznetsov said with a laugh after Saturday's victory. "But in that situation, we got a 2-on-1. I look for the Beegs ... when you have a chance to feed those guys, the ones that play the PK a lot and block a lot of shots, you want to make that pass for him, but he wasn't open that time. And you have to shoot."
It was Beagle who passed to Kuznetsov to start the play. When you give the playoffs' leading scorer the puck, is it as good as a goal?
"It's not as good as a goal, but I want it out of my hands when it's me and him, that's for sure," Beagle said with a laugh.
But it was Kuznetsov who was the Capitals' offensive star in Game 3.
"He's been great all season, for the last couple seasons, really," Carlson said. "One of the most dynamic players and can take over the league if he wants to, and I think he's that talented and sees the game better than anyone else."
It was a night to forget for Theodore
The play of Theodore was certainly problematic. This, of course, comes with the caveat that the 22-year-old had a terrific season for the Golden Knights, and he has been mostly strong these playoffs. But he wasn't too sharp in Games 2 and 3; the former Anaheim Duck was involved in a series of blunders.
From a broken stick in Game 3 that led to the Kuznetsov goal -- "That's one I'd like to have back," Theodore said -- to a whiffed clearing attempt that led to a turnover and directly set up Smith-Pelly's tally, Theodore said: "I just have to be much better than I was." And we agree.
It appeared Vegas coach Gerard Gallant skipped Theodore's next shift after the Smith-Pelly goal.
When asked if he received an explanation, Theodore said: "Yeah, I'm not sure. I'm not sure."
Kudos to Theodore for facing the media after a troubling night.
Here's what his defensive partner, Deryk Engelland, said he'll tell the youngster: "Turn the page. It's not a big deal. It's one game, and we need him at his best tomorrow. Next game."
The Capitals are different, Vol. 400
This was the kind of deflating "uh-oh" moment that in previous postseasons would have drilled under the skin of the Capitals and spread through them like a toxin of doubt. The kind of play that would have rendered the arena silent, followed by palpable tension.
But the Capitals have been saying for weeks that this group is different. Their response to that potential momentum swing was another indication.
"We've been in a lot of moments in the last 10 years. Not as many good ones as we'd like. I think everybody recognizes that if you do the right things and keep pounding the rock, there's a lot of pride in this dressing room, and there's a lot of pride in this D.C. area," Trotz said. "In the past failures, you would feel a lot of anxiety, even before we started the playoffs. But I think we've gotten past that as a group. We gotten past that, hopefully, as a community."
Warm-ups are dangerous
Capitals defenseman Michal Kempny suffered one of the worst injuries of the game ... before the game.
Kempny fell violently into the boards face-first during warm-ups, and he quickly left the ice for the dressing room. When he came out to play, he had a stitched-over gash on his nose.
"I stepped on the puck during warm-ups and smashed my face against the boards," he said.
Undaunted, Kempny played 17:23 in Game 3 and had three blocked shots.
Where is the energy?
The Golden Knights got to this point because on most nights of these playoffs, they were the faster team. In the first three rounds, they also wreaked havoc on the forecheck.
Vegas looked far more lackadaisical in Game 3. By the halfway point of the game, Vegas had mustered only nine shots. They seemed stifled by the Capitals' presence in the neutral zone. Washington continues to outclass Vegas in terms of blocking shots, with a whopping 26 in Game 3, after recording 18 each in the first two games of the series. (The Golden Knights blocked nine shots in Game 3, eight in Game 2 and 17 in Game 1.)
So where is the sense of urgency from Vegas?
"All year, we've had a lot of guys going," Engelland said. "That hasn't been the case [in Games 2 and 3]."
And why is that particularly troubling?
Engelland's take: "We had twice as much time off as they have in the playoffs. We should have a lot in the tank."