ARLINGTON, Va. – Having done just about everything else for the Washington Capitals – including win his first playoff game with a late third-period goal – Alex Ovechkin assumed the job of correspondent Saturday, taking a microphone and quizzing teammate Mike Green.
“How do you feel when I jump on you when you score second goal?” the league MVP favourite asked.
“I get a little nervous when you chase me,” Green answered.
“It was pretty sick, right?” Ovechkin said with a big, toothy grin.
A few seconds later, the one with the mop of hair and scraggly beard (Ovechkin) and the one with the playoff mohawk (Green) were walking out of the locker room together. Goal-wise, they represented the entirety of Washington’s comeback from a two-goal, third-period deficit in Friday night’s 5-4 win over the Philadelphia Flyers in Game 1.
Green scored the pair of goals that tied the score – he got tackled by Ovechkin while celebrating the second one – and Alex the Great followed with the first of what promises to be a long reel of fabulous post-season highlights. After being pushed and throttled for nearly the entire game, the 22-year-old Russian who scored 65 goals in the regular season stole the puck from defenceman Lasse Kukkonen and scored with 4:28 to play.
“A great player’s going to find a way,” Philadelphia right wing Mike Knuble said. “That’s why they’re great players. We did a good job for 40 minutes, and I guess we proved to him, to everybody, to ourselves, if we do the right things we can shut people down. And when you stop and you let him off for half-a-second, half-a-period, then they get their chances.”
Such was the Flyers’ attitude as they practised for Sunday’s Game 2. They had played the physical game they wanted to play – “I was really happy with the game plan,” said coach John Stevens – and held Ovechkin without a shot for more than two periods – yet still lost.
“He just continues to find a way to make things happen,” Stevens said. “And we’re going to have to continue to find a way to stop him.”
Even if he couldn’t get a shot off, Ovechkin was making an impact in other ways. He was credited with eight hits, one more than his game high during the regular season.
And he was playing with the jitters.
“I was so nervous the first two periods,” Ovechkin said.
Imagine what he’s going to be like now that he’s experienced the intense, raucous atmosphere of the NHL post-season.
“You’re only going to see that guy getting better and better through the playoffs,” Capitals left wing Donald Brashear said.
Ovie-mania was on full display at the Capitals’ practice facility. A woman sported a homemade “Mrs. Ovechkin” jersey, and two others wore self-designed “Russian machine never breaks” T-shirts. Several hundred fans packed the rink, making the place livelier than the Verizon Center in a midweek November game against Atlanta. Red balloons were everywhere, and no one could remember such a long line of customers outside the team’s official store.
All-in-all, the Capitals couldn’t be writing a better story. They put together seven consecutive must-wins to snatch a playoff berth at the end of the regular season, then overcame a two-goal deficit to win a playoff game – something that’s never happened before in franchise history – with their emerging superstar capping the victory.
“It’s not by design,” veteran forward Sergei Fedorov said. “That’s fantasy land.”
But there’s a long way to go, as shown by this sobering stat from the Washington archives: The Capitals have lost a playoff series an astounding 12 out of 18 times after winning Game 1.
“I’m sure both teams are going to make adjustments,” Washington coach Bruce Boudreau said. “I think they felt they deserved to win, and if I was them I’d feel the same way in a lot of respects.”
Notes: Flyers LW Patrick Thoresen was released from the hospital after tests revealed no serious injury to his groin after blocking a shot in the third period. He said he might play Sunday. “The chance is there because there is nothing wrong right now,” Thoresen said. “It’s just a matter of pain. Right now it doesn’t feel like I am ready to go because I am very sore.” … Flyers D Derian Hatcher (leg) said he won’t play in Game 2 but is optimistic about Game 3 in Philadelphia on Tuesday. “I’ll skate with the team Monday and we’ll go from there,” Hatcher said.