In a playoff series, individual battles between players can sometimes provide the most intrigue.
Take what is happening between Alex Ovechkin of the Capitals and Nazem Kadri of the Maple Leafs.
The Capitals won Game 5 in overtime, pushing the Maple Leafs to the brink of elimination. That’s a big story, because the Capitals are favored to win this series and expected to go on a deep playoff run, but Toronto has made this a heck of a series, with four of five games going to OT.
What occurred between Ovechkin and Kadri is also making headlines.
Late in the first period, Kadri delivered a controversial hit on Ovechkin, who was hurt on the play, leaving the ice and unable to put pressure on his left leg. It could’ve been a defining moment for the Capitals this post-season.
Fortunately for them, Ovechkin returned to the game but it’s been pointed out by a few people in the media that, during the second period, he seemed more intent on going after Kadri than anything else. After all, Ovechkin is a star player and based on comments after the game, it’s obvious the Maple Leafs want to get under his skin.
For his part, Kadri defended the hit, which was penalized for tripping.
“I thought he got rid of the puck and I just kind of tried to get a piece of him and he tried to get out of the way,” Kadri told reporters. “It’s not like I stuck my knee out or got my arms high or anything like that. It happened pretty quick. From what I saw, I thought it was OK.
“At the end of the day, I’m cheating my teammates if I don’t try to get a piece of him because he’s dumping the puck in and going around our defenseman. At the end of the day, I’ve got no choice. I’ve got to try and hold him up and save my defensemen,” he added, per CSN Mid-Atlantic.
Late in the second period, Kadri was slashed on the arm by Ovechkin and on the back of the knee by Matt Niskanen — basically at the same time, sending him to the ice.
Washington coach Barry Trotz said he was going to keep his opinion of the Kadri hit to himself, adding he was “quite concerned” when the “face of this franchise” went down like he did. His Toronto counterpart, Mike Babcock, thought the hit was all right.
“It’s interesting. [Trotz] probably thought there should’ve been a major. I thought there should’ve been no penalty,” Babcock told reporters. “The other night when [Roman Polak‘s] done for the year, our bench thought it should’ve been a major and they thought it should be no penalty.”
For both teams, the only thing that matters now is winning that next game. The Maple Leafs are looking to force a Game 7. The Capitals are looking to survive a first-round scare.
Babcock is apparently quite confident in his team going into Game 6.