Just more than five minutes into the third period Sunday night, Steve Oleksy changed the complexion of what was a tied game when he leveled Philadelphia Flyers captain Claude Giroux with an open-ice hit.
Oleksy’s check was clean, but that didn’t stop Flyers winger Jakub Voracek from seeking immediate retribution and forcing the Capitals defenseman to fight. Oleksy may have gotten the worse end of the bout with a cut above his left eye and blood dripping down his face, but Voracek caused more damage to his team.
In addition to the standard five minutes for fighting, Voracek received minor penalties for instigating, fighting with a visor and a 10-minute misconduct. The Capitals scored a pair of goals 26 seconds apart on the ensuing four-minute power play to take a two-goal lead.
To swing the momentum in a contest with a big hit and answer the bell for a fight that earns his team a lengthy power play is all anyone can ask of Oleksy.
“Tough kid, handled it. They protected their player,” Coach Adam Oates said. “Our power play scored two goals, what you’re supposed to do there, and it put us in a good position.”
It should have been enough to pave the way to a valuable win for the Capitals, but they coughed up the lead and fell 5-4 in overtime. The hit and fight became just a chapter in the course of the game.
“Caught a bit of a lucky one with a double minor and capitalized, and we weren’t able to keep it,” goalie Braden Holtby said. “We seemed to not play our game, I guess. We tried to go into too much of a defensive shell, and it didn’t work out.”
Oleksy wasn’t made available to reporters following the game because he was getting stitched up. While the Flyers intended to make Oleksy answer for laying out their captain one way or another, everyone on their side acknowledged it was a clean hit.
“That was a nice hit, yeah, I think the puck was at his feet or something; G was looking down,” Philadelpha agitator Zac Rinaldo said. “It was nice. That’s hockey.”
Voracek said he didn’t even see the hit but that he was going to defend his teammate regardless.
“I didn’t see it. I ran up to him and he turned around and I had no choice after it,” Voracek said. If the Czech winger hadn’t instigated the fight with Oleksy, the Capitals rookie would have been confronted by Rinaldo.
“It was great because I was ready to jump over the boards,” Rinaldo said. “Thank God Jake did or else I was going out there.”
While the Capitals couldn’t preserve the two-goal lead, Oleksy’s contribution Sunday night didn’t go unappreciated by his teammates.
“He’s been great for us all season long. He deserves to be here, and he’s been one of our most steady defensemen since he’s been called up, fighting, big hits, turn the tide,” Troy Brouwer said. “We were able to get two PP goals on that PP and it should have been enough to win the game tonight. He did a great job.”