Since Steve Oleksy joined the Washington Capitals in early March, they’ve learned the could rely on the 27-year-old for anything, from bone-rattling checks and fisticuffs to smart decision making in the defensive zone and the occasional offensive contribution.
Thursday night in his Stanley Cup playoff debut, the Michigan native made one heck of a mark on the scoresheet. With a little more than 14 minutes gone in the second period of Game 1, Oleksy made one of the most sublime passes from a Capital this year to set up Marcus Johansson for the game-winning goal.
“It was a great pass. That was an unbelievable pass, it was right on the tape. I just tried to score before they catch me,” Marcus Johansson said. “I was hoping, but I didn’t think he was even gonna try. When I saw that he passed it, I knew right away it was gonna make it. It was a perfect pass.”
Here’s another look at the goal:
As Oleksy gathered the puck deep in the defensive zone, he looked up ice to survey the scene and saw Johansson had slipped behind the Rangers’ top defensive pairing of Ryan McDonagh and Dan Girardi.
Oleksy took a few strides, but with Ryan Callahan and Derek Stepan converging on the open lane he sent the puck up ice just as he hit the top of the circles.
“I was able to calm it down a little bit and get my head up and waited an extra second to let him get going a little bit, allow him to get into stride,” Oleksy said. “He did a great job finding that lane and taking it in and finishing it off.”
Johansson stayed on-sides as he received the puck at the blueline turned and was off on a breakaway with New York defenseman frantically trying to catch up. The 22-year-old forward fired a shot under Henrik Lundqvist’s arm for a 2-1 lead as Washington took control in the second period.
While the pass that earned Oleksy his first-career point in the Stanley Cup playoffs might have surprised some, the Capitals have come to expect anything from the hard-working blueliner.
“He can make those skill plays. It surprises everyone all the time because just the role he plays. But it’s not surprising,” goaltender Braden Holtby said. “He’s worked as hard as anyone to improve that skill part of his game and he was outstanding. That was a huge play.”
On his next shift after threading that long outlet pass to Johansson, the toughness of Oleksy’s game was on display once again. Oleksy went down on one knee to block a shot by Rangers forward Derick Brassard and the puck struck him squarely on the left cheek, causing the defenseman to crumple to ice holding his jaw.
“Check my teeth,” Oleksy said of the first thing that went through his mind after the puck hit him. “I’m pretty fragile, I cut pretty easy. So just make sure I wasn’t leaking too bad and fortunately, there wasn’t more damage than there was.”
He made his way to the bench, where he was examined by team trainers before eventually going to the dressing room for closer inspection, but aside from some swelling Oleksy was fine.
“I wouldn’t expect anything less from him,” Jason Chimera said. “He’s a tough kid and that’s one of those things a lot of guys may be out for the game but he was back.”