What happened next has been replayed over and over again by jubilant Capitals fans. Alex Ovechkin got possession, went around the net and found Joel Ward, who slipped it past Lundqvist with 1.3 seconds left in regulation to give the Capitals a 1-0 lead in the Eastern Conference semifinals.
But the Rangers took exception to Backstrom’s hit as Boyle, 38, went down on the play and some New York players expected a whistle to be blown for boarding. Defenseman Ryan McDonagh said he hesitated once Boyle got hit.
“Obviously the last few seconds there, I feel like we all just kind of stopped when Boyle went down,” Lundqvist said. “We lost our focus a little bit and gave up the last chance. The way it happened, I was kind of going to my right and it looked like the puck was going to come out on my right and then when it came out, I was too late to come down. It’s a tough one.”
Said forward Martin St. Louis: “I haven’t seen the replay but knowing Boyler, my guess is it was bad, and that allowed them to get that chance. If Boyler doesn’t go down, they don’t get that chance. It’s tough to take, the late goal, but it’s how it happened that’s tough to take.”
The Capitals didn’t let on that anything about the hit was exceptional.
“You always talk about playing the game whistle-to-whistle all of the time,” Brooks Laich said when describing the last goal. “I thought our forecheckers did that. Nicky finished a check.”
Said Backstrom about his hit: “To be honest with you, I haven’t seen it, so I can’t really say anything about it, but it looked like he was standing by the wall there. Hits like that happen every game, so…”
“I think it’s a regular hit, from what I saw,” he said later. “In the playoffs, you’ve got to finish checks, so that’s what I tried to do. Create chances from that. There’s not going to be a lot of cute plays in the playoffs. You’ve got to create your chances from the forecheck.”
By this point, Washington is no stranger to criticism about hits in the playoffs. Forward Tom Wilson’s hit on Islanders defenseman Lubomir Visnovsky made him the most hated man in Nassau Coliseum and caused the New York Post to describe him as “a predator who preys on defenseless opponents.” Game 1 between the Capitals and the Rangers wasn’t as hard-hitting as Washington’s battles with the Islanders. The teams combined for 66 hits on Thursday night; Game 7 of the Islanders series featured 100 hits.