T.J. Oshie was still posing for selfies with red-clad fans as he approached an exit fare box at the Gallery Place Metro station Monday afternoon. The Washington Capitals forward had ridden the train from his Northern Virginia home to Chinatown before Game 3 of the Stanley Cup finals on Saturday, and he relished that first-time experience so much it only made sense to do it again before Game 4 on Monday night.
But Oshie had never traveled to a game during rush hour on a weekday afternoon like this, let alone for one of the most anticipated home games in franchise history. It was peak fare, and Oshie’s Metro card was 35 cents short. He searched his pockets for the change as he took pictures with a crowd forming around him. He eventually realized he didn’t have the fare and walked over to a hub.
A Metro worker recognized Oshie and quickly swiped him through as a “Let’s Go Caps!” chant broke out in the background. “I owe you guys, thank you,” he said to Metro staff before waving to the crowd filing in through the turnstiles, further endearing himself as a commoner willing to mingle with his fan base before helping his team inch closer to its first Stanley Cup with a 6-2 win over the Vegas Golden Knights in Game 4 a few hours later.
Oshie has not been around as long as franchise cornerstones Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom, but he has only further established himself as a fan favorite during this memorable playoff run. And he repaid his city in full on Monday night with another salt-of-the-earth performance. It was Oshie who scored the first goal of the game, showing off his skate-to-stick skill near the crease to beat Vegas goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury on a power play in the first period.
It was the kind of play that Oshie had difficulty explaining later. Maybe it could be traced back to his childhood days roller blading and stickhandling through the leaves in the driveway in his native Washington state. Or maybe it was because he had played soccer in the bowels of Capital One Arena on Monday night before Game 4.
“It’s just something that I sometimes find ways to do,” Oshie said. “Half the time I don’t even really know what’s going on and it just ends up on the stick.”
But it was Oshie’s nastiness — a hallmark of his game that has bled over to other parts of the roster throughout the postseason — that stood out more than his natural gifts Monday night. It showed up in the second period, when Oshie bulldozed his way through his offensive zone before dumping the puck off to Evgeny Kuznetsov. Oshie barreled over Vegas center Cody Eakin, while Kuznetsov calmly skipped a pass to John Carlson to set up a goal to make it 4-0.
“He never quits on pucks. His second effort is one of the best I’ve ever seen,” Capitals forward Brett Connolly said. “He’s obviously got a ton of skill, but he works for his chances, those second chances. He really led the way tonight.”
After Vegas had cut Washington’s lead to 4-2 late in the third period, Oshie found himself once again muscling his way past the blue line and dishing a pass to Backstrom. He then doled out a hit to Vegas’s Colin Miller, which cleared space for Backstrom to feed Michal Kempny for the Capitals’ fifth goal. Vegas Coach Gerard Gallant said afterward that Miller had a broken nose as a result of the hit.
“I’m really just trying to do my job and make whatever difference I can,” Oshie said. “I don’t think you ever hope someone has a broken nose, or a broken bone, but that’s the way it goes. I haven’t gotten through these playoffs scot-free. You kind of have to battle for it.”
That play drew the ire of Vegas as the clock ticked down, with Golden Knights defenseman Brayden McNabb delivering a cross-check on Oshie into the boards with less than three minutes remaining. Oshie eventually staggered to his feet. The Capital One Arena crowd, including many fans who also took Metro to the game, chanted his name.
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