The Capitals entered the third period of Game 4 on Thursday night with a one-goal lead, and as Boston pushed in attempt to tie the contest, Coach Dale Hunter turned to his most defensively-responsible forwards to carry the load down the stretch.
One player who didn’t take part in that show of team defense for the majority of the third, though, was Alex Ovechkin. The Capitals’ star left wing played only 1 minute 58 seconds in the final frame and just 15 seconds in the final 14 minutes of regulation.
Hunter attributed the captain’s low ice time on Friday to line-matching and wanting to have his shut-down forwards out against the Bruins’ top lines. It’s not the first time Hunter has benched Ovechkin in favor of more defensive-oriented players. But over the course of Ovechkin’s seven-year NHL career, it’s been far from a common occurrence for the Russian winger to sit out the bulk of the third period in a one-goal game.
“We were matching lines and they were going back with the [Patrice] Bergeron line a lot. Sometimes, some lines get shortchanged a bit but they do whatever it takes to win the game,” Hunter said. “It’s not a decision it’s just your game plan, what you’re go into. We’re matching lines.”
Ovechkin, who confirmed he is not injured, said that Hunter didn’t explain his lack of ice time during the course of Game 4, but said the coach didn’t need to, either.
“I don’t think he had to tell me something about this,” Ovechkin said. “Of course I want to be out there but it’s his decision and I can appreciate [the] guys for how they play and we win the game. It’s the most important thing. It doesn’t matter how many minutes I play. Of course I want to be there, but it’s his decision.”
Earlier this season, former head coach Bruce Boudreau benched Ovechkin late in a game on Nov. 1 against Anaheim with the Capitals trailing by a goal. Ovechkin’s unhappy reaction was caught on camera that day.
A day after barely skating in the third period of a playoff game, though, Ovechkin insisted that his personal ice time wasn’t his focus and said he understands why he didn’t play.
“Of course I understand and accept it,” Ovechkin said. “I want to be out there but again it’s his decision but we’re not going to be talking about it because it’s not time for this. We win the game. It’s most important thing right now. It doesn’t matter if I’m going to play 10 seconds or 5 seconds, most important thing is team result.”
Hunter said he hasn’t seen Ovechkin be anything less than supportive, regardless of the playing time he’s received.
“Ovi, he’s a team guy. He’s rooting for the guys on the bench. When [Jay Beagle] goes down [to block a shot] there, he’s the first guy to jump up and yell. He appreciates what guys like that do and he’s a real team guy,” Hunter said. “That’s how you build a team, yeah. Everybody knows their roles.”