WASHINGTON – It isn’t hard to notice that Alex Ovechkin, Alexander Semin and Mike Green scored the goals in the game that got the Washington Capitals out of the first round.
“They’re our best players,” defenceman Karl Alzner said. “We’re going to need them if we have any hope of going all the way.”
The Capitals entered the playoffs emphasizing a more all-around game focused as much on team defence as scoring. All went more or less according to plan—the New York Rangers scored only eight times on goalie Michal Neuvirth in the five game series, and non-stars Jason Chimera, Marcus Johansson, Scott Hannan, John Carlson and Alzner all made noticeable impacts.
Washington wouldn’t have finished things off so quickly, though, without marquee moments from their marquee names.
“They were all vested today. You could tell it from the first shift on,” coach Bruce Boudreau said after Saturday’s 3-1 series-clinching victory. “When your best players are your best players and the rest of the team just picks up from it, they play accordingly. And I thought our best players were our best players today.”
Ovechkin had career-lows of 32 goals and 85 points in the regular season, but he paced the Capitals with three goals and three assists against the Rangers. Green, back after missing more than six weeks with a concussion, had a goal and four assists, while Semin scored three goals, including the overtime winner in Game 1.
Ovechkin, in particular, needs to seize his moments. He did just that with a highlight goal in the second period Saturday that made the score 2-0.
“Today was his best game—easily. I mean complete,” Boudreau said. “In the other games, he’s had flashes of brilliance and then he’s been not so visible. Today, I thought he was very visible every time he was on the ice.”
Green suffered another blow to the head in the first period of Game 5 when he took a puck off the helmet. He didn’t return to the game, although Boudreau said he was fine. Green and Mike Knuble—who missed the last two games with a suspected hand injury—now have time to recover.
The Capitals took Sunday off, having won a series in fewer than seven games for the first time in more than a decade. They’ll return to the ice for an optional practice Monday as they enjoy a break earned from being the first team to advance to the Eastern Conference semifinals.
It’s usually a not big deal for a first-place team to dismiss an eighth-place team in five games in the first round, but the Capitals were upset in a 1-vs.-8 matchup a year ago, part of the franchise’s legacy of playoff disappointments.
Taking care of the Rangers helps the cause, but only a little: Washington, if it plays to its seed, should make it all the way to the Stanley Cup finals.
“It’s rewarding to win, but we haven’t won anything,” centre Brooks Laich said. “We get a chance to play hockey a little bit more, but we’re not jumping for joy in here. Nothing’s over. We’re moving on, but there’s still a lot of work to do.”