But when the Capitals needed someone to step up and break a tie in the third period of Game 2, it was Ovechkin who came through against the New York Rangers. Ovechkin’s tally on a booming point shot with 7 minutes 27 seconds remaining stood as the game-winner in a 3-2 victory, sending this Eastern Conference semifinal series back to Washington with the teams tied with one game apiece.
That Ovechkin found his scoring touch on a night when he didn’t play significant minutes was the astonishing factor of the win, though. He finished with 13:36 of ice time, the lowest he’s ever skated in a postseason game, but that didn’t limit his offensive effectiveness. In addition to the game-winning goal, the Capitals’ captain recorded a game-high seven shots on goal with only three attempts that were blocked.
“It’s most important thing right now guys just win the series and win the game,” Ovechkin said afterward. “If you gonna talk about my game time and all that kind of stuff, it’s not a season — it’s the playoffs. How I said before, you have to suck it up and play for team.”
Coach Dale Hunter has made it clear this season that he will dole out ice time and assignments as he sees fit, regardless of a player’s reputation or past history. If someone isn’t performing up to his standard in any particular scenario, they won’t play in that situation.
Ovechkin’s ice time has dipped dramatically in the postseason when Washington is ahead in a contest, largely because Hunter prefers to utilize his trusty two-way forwards in those situations.
While he reiterated that he would prefer to be in the game and that “sometimes if you’re not there you feel like you’re not in game,” Ovechkin said he’s trying to make a difference whenever he does play and that he understands he needs to score goals and “play safely” in order to earn more ice time in all scenarios.
“He wants to win. He’ll do whatever needs be. Tonight, not too many guys could have scored that goal from way out there,” Hunter said. “He hit the post tonight once too. He’s got a great wrist shot. Every time on the ice he is dangerous. He doesn’t need to have too much ice to score goals.”
It’s important buy-in for the Capitals as a cohesive unit, as the team continues to churn through the postseason with a balance of offensive contributions. In the Game 2 win, it was once again the grinders, Knuble and Chimera, who started things off for Washington on the scoreboard. They said seeing the group on the same page is key.
“He’s taken it in stride it’s hard to argue when we’re winning hockey games. He came through when we needed him and that’s the biggest thing,” Chimera said. “He’s adapted, [Alexander] Semin’s adapted to it too. I think a lot of guys, their ice time’s gone down but we’re winning hockey games. You can’t argue with that.”
Washington weathered early chances by the Rangers and took an initial 1-0 lead, 12:20 into the first when Knuble finished on a centering pass from fellow fourth-liner Joel Ward.
Another flurry of opportunities for New York came and went without any damage, thanks to Holtby. He turned a variety of shots away, including a breakaway chance by rookie Chris Kreider. The Capitals thanked Holtby for that important stop by providing a larger cushion on the ensuing shift.
Chimera beat Henrik Lundqvist (22 saves) to a puck behind the goal line and threw it out in front. As Lundqvist scrambled to get back in the crease, Matt Hendricks shot between the netminder’s legs. With the puck loose in the blue paint, Chimera swatted it into the open cage for a 2-0 lead at 17:14.
Brad Richards cut the lead to 2-1 with 42.4 seconds left in the first and in the third, Ryan Callahan was credited with a power-play goal on a deflection that evened the score at 2, with just more than 13 minutes remaining in regulation.
Ovechkin only played 9:14 through the first two periods and in the third, he used that extra energy. He recorded four shots in the 4:22 he played in the final frame, including the blast from the point that beat Lundqvist through traffic to seal a Washington win as though he had been on the ice the whole night.
“I guess I kind of have the best view of anyone for those type of goals,” Holtby said. “It was just the perfect shot. Lundqvist had no chance. He played it perfect, to his credit. That’s why [Ovechkin] is one of the best goal scorers in the league.”