For most of this game, the story was the lack of playing time that Alex Ovechkin was receiving, then, with one shot he changed the narrative. Ovechkin’s game-winning goal might not be a cure-all, but it’s certainly a powerful statement. He stepped up when Washington Capitals needed him the most, which is something we haven’t seen a ton of from Washington’s highest paid players in this postseason run.
Even in times when they weren’t moderate underdogs, it seemed like the Washington Capitals had one team’s number in the Alex Ovechkin era: Henrik Lundqvist’s New York Rangers. King Henrik often kept over-matched Rangers teams in those series, yet the higher seed Caps won both series.* The third part of that trilogy will happen in the 2012 semifinals after the Rangers and Capitals won insanely close first round series.
The third edition has some interesting new wrinkles even if Lundqvist’s and Ovechkin’s names remain on top of the marquee. This time around, the Rangers are the No. 1 seed while the Capitals are the dangerous underdogs.
After jostling with equally emphatic coach Bruce Boudreau before, John Tortorella will get to soak up all the attention if Dale Hunter gets his way. Tortorella didn’t have a whole lot to tell PHT’s Joe Yerdon about the upcoming series after Game 7 yet, though.
“I haven’t even got that far yet,” Tortorella said.
That coaching difference will likely represent as big a change as who has home ice. The Rangers might very well see a little bit of themselves – or maybe their old selves – in the increasingly scrappy Capitals.
So, with all that in mind, what are your early impressions? Can Washington thrive in its underdog role again or will the Rangers get some revenge? Will Braden Holtby top Lundqvist like he did to Tim Thomas? It should be a fun one.
* The Capitals took the 2009 series in seven games and topped New York in five last year.
Former Washington coach Bruce Boudreau hasn’t forgiven Jaroslav Halak for what he did to the Capitals.
Boudreau’s Ducks host Halak and the Blues tonight. Thus, the question about 2010.
To refresh your memory, Halak led the underdog Canadiens to a shocking first-round upset of the Presidents’ Trophy-winning Capitals in 2010. He stopped all but three of the 134 shots he faced in In Games 5, 6 and 7, and was named first star in all three outings.
“I thought we had a good chance to win the Stanley Cup this year,” Boudreau said after Game 7, “and I would have bet my house that they wouldn’t have beaten us three games in a row and we would have only scored three goals in almost 140 shots.”
The Habs advanced to the second round where they pulled off another upset, this time over the defending champion Penguins, and once again in large part due to Halak.
So it wasn’t just the Caps who fell victim to brilliant goaltending.
But for Washington, the first-round elimination led to a major change in strategy. The next season Boudreau was preaching defense while eschewing run-and-gun hockey. The Capitals still won a lot of regular-season games, but they scored almost 100 fewer goals and were swept in the second round of the playoffs by Tampa Bay.
Along the way, Washington’s superstar, Alex Ovechkin, seemed to lose his zest for the game. Clearly the new, conservative approach wasn’t as fun to play. Or, for that matter, watch.
All of which begs the question, if Boudreau thought Halak was such a major factor in the series, why did he change his team’s style so dramatically? Not saying the Caps would’ve done any better if they kept running and gunning — just wondering which direction they would’ve taken if not for an unheralded goalie that went on an amazing run.
Via D.C. Sports Bog (h/t Wysh), Capitals GM George McPhee spoke to ESPN 980 Tuesday and disclosed that Alex Ovechkin once played at 242 pounds. (You can download the podcast here.)
According to NHL.com, that would make him the 15th-heaviest player in the league, the same as Dustin Penner. (Though that doesn’t account for all the liars.)
McPhee noted that Ovechkin’s commitment to the game is “a lot better than it was,” but yikes – 242 pounds?
“He’s in terrific shape right now,” McPhee said. “And guys do different things in the summer. Ovi’s usually gotten by by just being a great athlete. Show up and play. And we’ve talked to him, that doesn’t happen in this league. At some point it has to kick in, you have to train, and he’s at 224 right now. And he hasn’t been at 224 in a few years.”
McPhee added: “He played at 242 once, and he got suspended for hitting a few people. And he was crushing guys, and he loved crushing guys, and we said you know what, Bruce [Boudreau] always thought he was a better player at about 227… And you can see it when he’s moving out there, he’s flying.”
It’s not clear whether Ovechkin bulked up to 242 pounds because “he loved crushing guys” or because he loved crushing booze and buffets. Teammate Brooks Laich said last year that Ovechkin is just “big boned”…
Anyway, McPhee also said he wants Dale Hunter to keep coaching next season and – since he believes injuries to Mike Green and Nicklas Backstrom are to blame for most of the team’s struggles – isn’t planning any big changes if the Caps miss the playoffs.
We wonder if owner Ted Leonsis feels the same way.
Wednesday in Ottawa, Alex Ovechkin looked like Alex Ovechkin again. His spectacular goal late in the third period broke a 2-2 tie and catapulted the Capitals towards a 5-3 victory.
For Ovechkin, it was just his second goal in 14 games, a stretch that’s featured the firing of coach Bruce Boudreau, the hiring of coach Dale Hunter, and a whole heap of criticism directed towards Washington’s superstar and captain.
But Ovechkin maintains the recent dry spell wasn’t for a lack of effort or chances.
“Sometimes you try everything and it doesn’t work. Sometimes you shoot the puck from the redline and it goes in, you never know when pucks go in,” Ovechkin said, as per the Washington Post. “Especially against Ottawa like first period I have three, 100 percent chances to score goal but I didn’t score. Third period again, I have chances to shoot the puck perfectly and make the move but I didn’t score. I say … what’s going on? Why puck don’t want to go in the net?’ It’s just a moment. When you working hard, when you make some plays, when you have opportunity to score goals — puck goes in.”
First of all, hopefully you read that using a Russian accent in your head. You’d have had 100 percent chance to make laugh.
Secondly, it will be interesting to see if Ovechkin can put together another strong performance tonight versus the Leafs at the Verizon Center.
According to assistant coach Dean Evason, the Caps have been trying to get Ovechkin to mix up the repertoire once he gets in the attacking zone.
“We’re just trying to get him to have different looks,” Evason said, “show different looks, pull up a little more, shoot from different angles, go to different places on the ice and open himself up. He’s doing a real good job of recognizing that and fitting it into his game.”
We can’t be sure what Ovechkin was thinking at the time, but perhaps his goal in the Ottawa game was a good example of what Evason was talking about. There was no attempt to force a cut to the middle upon entering the zone on the left wing; instead he took the puck wide and waited for an opportunity to present itself. (And that opportunity was Erik Karlsson forgetting how to stop.)