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Rick Zamperin: Maple Leafs should send Alex Ovechkin a thank you card

Washington Capitals star Alex Ovechkin was asked Tuesday if the Toronto Maple Leafs have what it takes to win the Stanley Cup.
Washington Capitals star Alex Ovechkin was asked Tuesday if the Toronto Maple Leafs have what it takes to win the Stanley Cup. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young

It’s been said that the Stanley Cup is the hardest championship to win in professional sports.

Each National Hockey League team that has earned the right to hoist Lord Stanley’s gift to the sport has been comprised of a mixture of talent and toughness, selflessness and sacrifice.

Two seasons ago, the Washington Capitals — by then removed from the list of serious cup contenders — went all the way and won their first NHL championship.

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After failing to make it past the second round of the playoffs in the 12 years leading up to their Stanley Cup victory in 2017-18, the Caps finally broke through after understanding that skill alone could not get them to hockey’s holy grail.

So when Washington captain Alexander Ovechkin was asked Tuesday about how the Toronto Maple Leafs — a similarly highly-skilled team that has not had much playoff success of late — can get to that championship calibre level, his assessment of the situation is sure to have struck a nerve in the Leafs dressing room.

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“For them, they’re still a young group of guys,” said Ovechkin.

“I hope they’re going to learn, but it’s up to them how they want to do it. If they want to play for themselves or if they want to win a Stanley Cup they have to play differently, no doubt.”

The truth hurts, doesn’t it?

READ MORE: Rick Zamperin: Toronto Maple Leafs’ struggles are grossly exaggerated

Toronto may have some great offensive players like injured captain John Tavares, Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner, but they’re only filling one bucket of the many that are required to become a legitimate Stanley Cup contender.

After years of listening to head coach Mike Babcock talk about what his players need to do to take the next step, maybe hearing the same message from one of the best players in hockey history will help the players in blue and white realize that it takes a lot more than skill to get your name engraved on the Stanley Cup.