Hunter says “matching lines” is why Ovechkin played 1:58 in the third period last night

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In a game that had no shortage of storylines — Braden Holtby’s heroics, “Win it for Nicky”, the clock fiasco — it’s easy to overlook how Capitals coach Dale Hunter parked Alex Ovechkin for the third period of Washigton’s 2-1 victory.

Really easy to overlook when you hear Hunter downplay it.

To him, giving Ovechkin four shifts for 1:58 of ice time was no big deal — just part of the mad science of line-matching.

“We were matching lines and they were going back with the [Patrice] Bergeron line,” Hunter told Stephen Whyno of the Washington Times. “So, sometimes lines get short-changed a bit.”

The finer details, from NHL.com:

The Capitals’ captain took a 64-second shift that ended 2:40 into the third, then his final three shifts lasted 39, two and 13 seconds.

He spoke to the media after the game, and no injury was mentioned by Ovechkin nor coach Dale Hunter. The two-second shift happened because he came on the ice during play and then the puck went into the netting two seconds later. Hunter went with a different line for the ensuing faceoff.

The same thing happened on his final shift — a stoppage in play led Hunter to choose other players for the faceoff.

It should be noted Ovi had a costly turnover in the first period, which led to Rich Peverley’s game-tying marker. That’s important in light of what Hunter did back in early March in a game against Philadelphia:

Sunday night’s lone goal in a Flyers’ 1-0 win over the Caps began as an offensive-zone turnover by Alex Ovechkin in the second period and led to some time on the bench for the superstar. “It’s tough loss for us, I think,” Ovechkin said. “My mistake cost us two points and it cost us the game.”

After that goal, Ovechkin didn’t take a shift for the next 6 minutes 39 seconds but Coach Dale Hunter insisted that he wasn’t benching the captain, rather that he was simply matching lines. “Guys, it’s not a benching. Maybe he missed a shift. Guys, I was matching lines,” Hunter explained to reporters.

As for Game 4…the Bergeron-Lucic-Peverley line played a ton in the third (around seven minutes) and saw a lot of the Troy Brouwer-Jay Beagle-Matt Hendricks checking line. From a coaching perspective, the matching makes sense…but from an optics standpoint, it’s still pretty crazy to see the team captain not play the final six minutes of a crucial playoff game.