Down by two goals in the third period Saturday afternoon, the Capitals at last began to look like a team that could hold its own against the Eastern Conference-leading Bruins.
They finally had control of the puck for more than five seconds and were able to generate sustained, offensive zone time with an aggressive forecheck and seemed to be tilting the game in their favor.
But that momentum received a knockout punch at 11:40 of the third period when Alex Ovechkin received a minor penalty for charging when he delivered an open-ice hit to Boston’s Loui Eriksson. It was a questionable call, one that Coach Adam Oates described as “terrible.”
Eriksson ducks and braces himself for the impact of the 6-3, 230-pound winger headed toward him just before impact and while the two collide, it’s nowhere near the full force of what Ovechkin is capable of delivering.
“He was not ready, he’s kind of down and I make a hit. Is it a penalty, two minutes?” Ovechkin said after the game. “I think it change the game right away, they score a goal and I think it was bad call. Nothing you can do right now.”
On the ensuing power play, Patrice Bergeron scored to put the Bruins up 4-1 at 13:17 of the third and all but eliminate any hope of Washington rallying to tie.
The description of charging in the NHL rulebook (Rule 42) covers “the actions of a player who, as a result of distance traveled, shall violently check an opponent in any manner” and specifies that a charge can occur both along the boards and in open ice. Was this check particularly violent? Apparently enough for the referee to call the minor penalty.
As much as Oates was displeased with the penalty, he dismissed the notion that the Capitals were simply victims of circumstance and put the onus on the penalty kill to keep the team afloat in that situation.
“It doesn’t change the game. It’s a call, referee’s discretion,” Oates said. “I don’t like the call but he called it. He saw something that I don’t agree with now, but our job is to kill it.”