As the Washington Capitals made their push for the playoffs in the final month of the season they had the benefit of an element that has been absent far too often in recent years — a healthy Mike Green.
There’s no equivalent or substitute for a fluid-skating, booming slap-shot shooting Green in the Washington lineup. He controls the pace of a game and patrols the point on the power play unlike any other player on the roster can and Saturday night against the Boston Bruins, Green offered a reminder as to why.
Green recorded a pair of power-play goals in the third period, both long-range shots from the point, to single-handedly erase a two-goal deficit and propel the Capitals to overtime. In extra time, Eric Fehr recorded the game-winner for a 3-2 triumph over Boston at Verizon Center in Washington’s regular season finale.
Having clinched the third seed in the Eastern Conference on Tuesday, Washington simply wanted to avoid closing out the regular season with a whimper and Green provided the necessary boost. With his two goals, Green became the NHL’s leading goal scorer among defensemen with 12 tallies in only 35 games.
“I think it was important,” Green said of winning a game with no true bearing on Washington. “I think that last game we didn’t come out very strong and didn’t play the last 60 minutes. It was important tonight that we showed some character and came back and have the confidence going on into playoffs.”
In the moments after the Capitals win, they also learned more about what the future holds. Washington will face the New York Rangers in the Eastern Conference quarterfinals, with the series expected to begin either Tuesday or Wednesday at Verizon Center.
It will mark the fourth time in the past five years that the Capitals have faced John Tortorella’s gritty New York club, and in this case familiarity may breed contempt. The Capitals have won two of the three prior meetings but last spring, the Rangers eliminated Washington in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinals.
“Definitely it’s going to be tough matches all the time,” said Alex Ovechkin, who didn’t record a goal but finishes the season as the league’s leading goal scorer to earn the Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophy for the third time in his career. “We just have to play simple and play our game. If we’re going to play our game, we’re going to get success. In the playoffs, you have to give everything you can to get success.”
The Capitals felt it was important to head into the postseason with some success but through two periods it looked as though they might be headed toward consecutive losses for the first time since March 10 and 12.
The Bruins took a 1-0 lead near the mid-way point of the first when a seemingly harmless shot off a faceoff by Milan Lucic went off Karl Alzner’s skate and into the net. Then with 7 minutes 49 seconds gone in the second period, Boston went up 2-0 when Andrew Ference scored off the rush on a snap shot from the top of the right circle.
Washington wasn’t without plenty of scoring opportunities of its own, but Bruins’ netminder Tuukka Rask (34 saves) was poised as he and his teammates looked for a leg up in the on-going race for the Northeast Division crown and the No. 2 seed in the East.
It wasn’t until the third period — when Boston was whistled for four penalties — that the Capitals, led by Green, managed to fight their way back. With 5:26 gone in the third, Green corralled the puck a few feet in from the blue line on the right point and fired a wrister to cut the deficit to 2-1.
Less than two minutes later, with Washington back on the power play, Green scored again to make it 2-2. This time it was a booming, forceful slap shot that Green blasted past Rask.
“You saw how special he can be,” Capitals Coach Adam Oates said. “He got us back in the ballgame by himself, kind of, even though it’s on PP. But that first shot is all-world. He got his juices going.”
For Green the success even in limited playing time this season has been worth the wait. Dating back to the start of the 2010-11 season, Green has missed 93 of the past 212 regular season games because of various injuries.
But in 19 games since he returned to the lineup from a groin problem on March 21 at Winnipeg, Green has 10 goals and nine assists, helping to lead Washington’s playoff push from the blue line and looking a lot like the confident player who was a two-time Norris Trophy finalist earlier in his career.
“It feels good. It’s been a rough year too,” Green said. “You enjoy playing the game again, coming to the rink every day knowing that you have the confidence and your body’s stable enough to play. It’s a lot of fun.”