ARLINGTON, Va. – Flashing that gap-toothed grin of his, Alex Ovechkin said all the right things Friday about being benched by Capitals coach Dale Hunter for all but 15 seconds over the final 14 minutes of Washington’s 2-1 victory against Boston in Game 4 of their first-round series.
A day after watching his teammates help playoff rookie goalie Braden Holtby protect a one-goal lead Thursday night, the two-time NHL MVP said: “It doesn’t matter how many minutes I play. Of course I want to be there, but it’s his decision.”
Both Ovechkin and Hunter said the team’s leading scorer and captain is healthy. But the coach said his game plan called for sitting Ovechkin when certain Bruins lines were out on the ice. What’s more, the Russian who makes nearly $10 million a season isn’t the player the Capitals want putting his body in harm’s way at the defensive end.
“At the end of the game there, you’ve got your shot-blockers out there, and you want your best players blocking shots, but your offensive guys, but you don’t want them breaking a foot, either,” Hunter said.
Other Capitals players shrugged off the move, with some saying they didn’t even notice Ovechkin was only on the ice for a total of 1 minute, 58 seconds in the third period of a playoff game.
“Just because he’s not on the ice, doesn’t mean he’s not a big part of the team. He’s paid to score goals. He’s here to score goals, and make sure we’re in games and giving ourselves a chance to win games,” forward Troy Brouwer said. “If we were down a goal, he’d be the guy that would probably log the most amount of ice time. But being a game where you have a one-goal lead, they have a pretty good push, you want your defensive guys out, the guys who are usually on the penalty kill, the shutdown line—and he understands that.”
The Capitals had a 26-16 edge in blocked shots, and they didn’t allow Boston to get an official shot on goal over the final 7 minutes Thursday.
Hunter pointed to one block in particular: When forward Jay Beagle dropped down to get in the way of a shot by Boston defenceman Johnny Boychuck in the final 10 seconds.
“‘Beags’ has got the knack. You see at the end of the game, he slid at the right time? It takes timing,” Hunter said.
“Ovie, he’s a team guy. He’s rooting for the guys on the bench,” Hunter said. “When ‘Beags’ goes down there, he’s the first one to jump up and yell. You appreciate what guys like that do, and that’s why he’s a real team guy.”
The series is 2-2 heading into Game 5 at Boston on Saturday.
Ovechkin, for his part, said it doesn’t matter how many minutes he plays, as long as Washington wins.
“Well, of course, I understand it. I accept it. … It doesn’t matter if I’m going to play 10 seconds or 5 seconds. Most important thing is team result,” Ovechkin said.
Asked how he thought he played Thursday, Ovechkin replied: “Well, like, we win.”
Then he laughed a bit and added the punch line: “So I played good.”
NOTES: Hunter said G Michal Neuvirth will back up Holtby on Saturday. Neuvirth hasn’t played since hurting his left leg during a game April 5, when an opposing player fell on him. “Obviously you need a lot of painkillers and try to get through the pain. That’s what I’m trying to do,” Neuvirth said, adding that he’s “not going to be 100 per cent” until he heals during the off-season. … The Capitals assigned G Dany Sabourin to Hershey of the AHL. Sabourin was Holtby’s backup for Games 1-4, with Neuvirth and Tomas Vokoun (groin) injured.