Before he burst into an exuberant, fist-pumping celebration Wednesday at Madison Square Garden, Jason Chimera probably was not the average Washington Capitals fan’s first pick to score a double-overtime game-winner in the playoffs.
Nor might anyone have anticipated rookie Marcus Johansson rising to the occasion when the Capitals needed an offensive net presence, or Scott Hannan leading the team in ice time and yet only being on for one goal against in this postseason, or Boyd Gordon boasting the best faceoff percentage of anyone on any team in the playoffs.
Those lesser-known faces have put on some timely performances this postseason to help the Capitals earn a chance to clinch a series victory over the New York Rangers in Game 5 Saturday at Verizon Center. Should Washington advance past this Eastern Conference quarterfinal, those contributions will become even more critical.
“It energizes the team when you see guys showing that extra effort or going outside their element to do things that they might not normally do during the regular season as often,” veteran center Jason Arnott said. “Other guys see it and then they do it themselves and it evolves from there where everyone wants to be that guy. You need that for a long run.”
By making sure he followed up his shot in the second overtime of Game 4 to take advantage of a Rangers miscue, Chimera became the hero of one of the Capitals’ most memorable playoff contests. The 31-year-old left wing, best known for his blazing speed, had recorded only 10 goals in 81 games during the 2010-11 regular season.
Upon the start of the postseason, Chimera seemed to find an extra gear and has fueled a third line that has created consistent scoring opportunities. In four games against the Rangers, he has two game-winning tallies — this after not scoring more than one in a season since 2007-08.
“It always seems that the guys you never think are going to score and build the team up, pick the team up, do in the playoffs,” Chimera said. “It’s a mental attitude, maybe, in the playoffs, where you take a different approach because we all know we need to be a difference maker. This time of year you have to step up — you can’t just be along for the ride and hope to do well.”
Then there’s Johansson, at 20 the youngest player on the roster. He also has played a critical role in making Washington’s third line a legitimate offensive presence, and when the team was without the injured Mike Knuble, its most prominent net-crasher, Johnasson followed the example of the veteran right winger. The Swede scored two goals Wednesday by going to the high-traffic areas in front of New York’s net to help the Capitals mount a comeback.
“You can’t expect your top three or four goal-scorers to come through every time and to be the only guys to step up,” Gordon said. “Playoffs are a long haul and we need different guys in different situations to step up every night. We’re all conscious of that.”
Gordon’s steadiness in high-pressure situations, particularly on the penalty kill, has been on display throughout his career, but even more so since Washington traded away David Steckel, who often served a similar role, at the Feb. 28 deadline. Gordon has a 66 percent success rate on faceoffs, winning all but 18 of the 53 draws he’s taken this postseason, and most of his trips to the dot come in his own zone. He’s been on the ice for only one of the Rangers’ seven goals this series despite anchoring Washington’s penalty kill.
Similarly, Hannan, a defenseman, has played steady, significant minutes protecting the Capitals’ zone. He’s averaging a team-high 25 minutes 24 seconds of ice time per game, including 4:30 of short-handed play each contest.
Hannan, 32, arrived in December via trade from the Colorado Avalanche and has brought a calming yet vocal presence to the Capitals’ defensive play. And with Tom Poti (groin) and Dennis Wideman (leg hematoma) out and Mike Green just returning after missing 20 games with a concussion, the importance of Hannan’s ability to log heavy minutes cannot be understated.
“I think you find in any sport there are playoff heroes all over the place,” Coach Bruce Boudreau said. “Any team that wins, it’s not only the great players that are going to step to the fore; it’s guys that you haven’t heard much about, young guys, guys that are plumbers. . . . You need it, because to be successful you need everybody to contribute.”