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Who is bigger Stanley Cup Playoffs disappointment: Alex Ovechkin or Connor Hellebuyck?

NHL: Stanley Cup Playoffs-New York Rangers at Washington Capitals
Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

One round into the 2024 Stanley Cup Playoffs, one question is begging for an answer. Is Alex Ovechkin or Connor Hellebuyck a bigger disappointment this postseason?

Two of the biggest stars in the League came up small in the first round and, as a result, their respective teams are off to an early summer vacation.

Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals were swept by the New York Rangers, who were, admittedly, an overwhelming favorite to win the series. Hellebuyck and the Winnipeg Jets were kayoed in five games by the Colorado Avalanche in what was expected to be a tightly-contested series.

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Alex Ovechkin, Connor Hellebuyck major disappointments in 2024 Stanley Cup Playoffs

NHL: Stanley Cup Playoffs-Colorado Avalanche at Winnipeg Jets
Credit: James Carey Lauder-USA TODAY Sports

Let’s start with the “Great 8.” Ovechkin was held without a point in an entire playoff series for the first time in his career. He had only six shots on goal over the course of the first round, and struggled to generate anything for his team. We’re talking about a Stanley Cup champion, one who had 72 goals and 141 points in 147 postseason games before being blanked by the Rangers.

Ovechkin simply seemed spent. He barely moved on the ice, remaining stationary for stretches waiting for the puck to find him. That made it easy for the Rangers to blanket him. Standing flat-footed at center ice, he was even stripped of the puck on the power play in Game 3, leading to a shorthanded game-winning goal for New York. 

The 38-year-old appeared to have nothing left in the tank after helping lead the Capitals on an intense stretch run to earn the final NHL playoff berth.

“The physical part is one part, but the other part is mentally having to stay in that game right until the buzzer ends every single night,” Capitals coach Spencer Carbery said. “You do that for three months, and it takes a toll on you. Ovechkin isn’t 28 years old anymore, he’s a veteran player. From a mental and physical fatigue standpoint, he went through a lot this year.” 

Perhaps this can explain why Oveckin seemed to fizzle out in the playoffs. Not to mention that the team surrounding him was overmatched and riddled with injury. 

On the other side of the playoff bracket, Hellebuyck struggled mightily and seemed overwhelmed in goal for the Jets. It was stunning to watch, considering he’s the likely Vezina Trophy winner this season as the top NHL goalie. Hellebuyck had an .870 save percentage and a whopping 5.23 goals-against average. It is the first time in Hellebuyck’s career that he surrendered five or more goals in five straight games. 

This is a far cry from his regular season numbers in which he posted a record of 37-19-4, a .921 save percentage, and 2.39 GAA. He was named a finalist for the Vezina Trophy along with Sergei Bobrovsky (Florida Panthers) and Thatcher Demko (Vancouver Canucks).

The question many are asking is: What happened to Hellebuyck? 

Even in Winnipeg’s sole win of the series, the 30-year-old let up six goals. He was fortunate that Winnipeg’s offense showed up in Game 1 and buried seven. Over the next four games, Winnipeg lost 5-2, 6-2, 5-1, and 6-3. 

Hellebuyck was even pulled in the third period of Game 4, though Jets coach Rick Bowness tried to explain that away without laying sole blame on the franchise goalie.

“I gave him a little bit of a breather in the third period last night,” Bowness said at the time. “To put a little more on the players in front of him. They have to play better, so that’s why we made that (decision). It had absolutely nothing to do with his play at all. It was to give him a break.” 

Unfortunately for Winnipeg, the break and mental reset did not pay off for Hellebuyck and the Jets. Of course, not every goal was his fault. One goal in the elimination Game 5 was redirected off of Neal Pionk’s skate and in for an own goal. Another came off of an impressive deflection. That being said, a goaltie like Hellebuyck simply does not surrender that many goals in a five-game span, especially in the playoffs. 

So, two NHL stars are done for the season and each has much to contemplate until training camp begins next september.

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