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Alex Ovechkin shows off star power

WASHINGTON, D.C -- Even Alex Ovechkin's teammates noticed what seemed to be a child-like excitement when the Washington Capitals captain arrived at Nationals Park on Thursday morning.

He was smiling, buzzing with anticipation about the game. He was ready to play.

It was no surprise to them to see the performance the 29-year-old superstar delivered in Washington's 3-2 win against the Chicago Blackhawks in the 2015 Winter Classic.

He crashed. He banged. He scored a goal and hit two posts, then assisted on the game-winning goal with just under 13 seconds to play.

It was the big stage, and he rose to the occasion.

Put simply: "Alex is a rock star," Capitals head coach Barry Trotz said.

Though teammate Troy Brouwer delivered the game-winning heroics, Ovechkin was by far the most captivating presence on the ice. Whether he was delivering a teeth-rattling check, unleashing a wicked shot or juggling the puck on his stick during a stoppage in play, all eyes were on him.

He seemed to love it.

"The whole day was unbelievable," Ovechkin said. "The atmosphere on the ice, since the first second, was unreal."

Team owner Ted Leonsis expected as much from his captain. For as much as Ovechkin is cast as a polarizing player -- one who has been scrutinized to a puzzling degree -- Leonsis knows a different Ovechkin. A dedicated family man, a doting son who was eager to host his mother and father when they flew in to watch him play in person for the first time this season.

"I've always had confidence in Alex as the face of this franchise," Leonsis said. "He's a generationally great player and he's an unbelievably fine human being, and I think sometimes maybe it's you guys [the media] that don't do the work to get to understand him."

Capitals defenseman Matt Niskanen had a pretty good idea just how fierce a competitor Ovechkin was, having to play against him while anchoring the Pittsburgh Penguins blue line last season. But Niskanen has a more nuanced understanding of that player -- and person -- now that he witnesses Ovechkin's spark on a daily basis.

"Being in the dressing room, being on his side, you see it a little bit more," Niskanen said. "That kind of attitude is contagious. When you're really excited to be at the rink and you're competitive and you're really going and you're the hardest worker out there, that's contagious within the group. That's great to see."

The Capitals needed that energy to combat the Blackhawks -- a team that many regard as the best in the NHL. Trotz goes so far as to call Chicago the "gold standard" of the league. Though Ovechkin tallied his 18th of the season to give the Caps a 2-0 lead in the first period, the Hawks wrestled the momentum in the next frame. It was a daunting test -- going toe-to-toe with Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews and Patrick Sharp, the latter of which had a team-leading 10 shots on goal in an inspired effort -- but one that Ovechkin clearly relished.

"In the games he's playing against other players that are considered the best in the league, he likes to prove himself, so the jump he had was great. We like to see when he gets in there crashing and banging, throwing pucks to the net. That's when he's at his best," veteran defenseman Karl Alzner said. "It was what we needed from him tonight and he was awesome."

Though it was Eric Fehr who scored perhaps the most dazzling goal -- deking Hawks netminder Corey Crawford on a breakaway in the first -- and Brouwer who scored the most important -- snapping a 2-2 deadlock in the final minute of the game -- the crowd was craving one from No. 8 as they packed the stands on New Year's Day.

He delivered 11:58 into play and the sellout crowd of 42,832 erupted in delight.

"Alex has this ability, as the great stars do, that you want to keep your eyes on him. Even if he's not doing anything good, bad, or indifferent, you want to watch him. And that's what star power does," Trotz said. "You want to watch those guys out there. You can say, you know, bad game, good game, whatever, you can pick him apart, but you want to watch him. That, to me, is a star. The bigger the stage, the more Alex stands up to it."

Trotz has seen how often people pick Ovechkin apart, and the coach finds this odd. How many players score like Ovi? How many can play with that sort of physicality? How many have that ability to put people in seats?

"There's not very many," Trotz said. "And that's what makes him unique."

Ovechkin said the Capitals have talked about the Winter Classic all season. Before the game, Brouwer said this is the time to step up and make a show.

He did.

"I always have fun," Ovechkin said. "But this is one of those special days."