Ovechkin — who Thursday was nominated by the NHL Players’ Association for the Ted Lindsay Award, given annually to the league’s most outstanding player — was caught looking a bit frustrated as the Rangers scored what ended up being the decisive fourth goal. As Derek Stepan tipped Ryan Callahan’s pass below the goal line to Carl Hagelin, who gave the puck back to a wide-open Stepan across the crease, Ovechkin cruised in behind the play, drifting. Had he skated hard, he might have marked Stepan.
Thursday, Ovechkin said of Stepan’s goal, “We missed the battle at the blue line.” He did not address what could have been seen as a lousy effort on his part, but he did point out that when the Capitals clear those pucks out of the zone, they can get their offensive stars going.
“Of course, they’re good ‘D,’ ” he said. “But if we have full speed, it’s pretty hard to stop me or JoJo or Backie, especially one-on-one.”
Not Ovechkin nor Johansson nor Backstrom has been able to break free for many one-on-one situations the past two games. Still, Oates isn’t looking for a complete overhaul in structure or strategy. He said he spoke with Ovechkin on Thursday, and the message wasn’t about how to react or adjust. Rather, it was a reminder of how he had played since mid-March, when he closed the season by scoring 23 goals in the Capitals’ final 23 games.
“Continue to play good,” Oates said he told his star. “They’re a good team over there, too. It’s playoff hockey. Sometimes, that happens — you get a point-free game or two. And then all of a sudden you go on a four-game streak. That’s playoff hockey. To me, his job is just to continue to play good.”
Which is a simple strategy that fits into a simple formula: When Ovechkin plays well, the Capitals normally win. And to push that formula further into the playoffs, they must now win twice in the next three games.