ARLINGTON, Va. (AP) Unencumbered by talk of possible bites or potential suspensions, Alex Ovechkin strolled into the locker room at the Capitals’ training facility Monday wearing an Italian soccer club’s jersey and his usual “What, me worry?” gap-toothed grin.
A day before the Capitals and New York Rangers meet in Game 7, the league’s reigning MVP rested, taking advantage of coach Bruce Boudreau’s decision to make practice optional.
“Well, you know, last game was biggest game of the year – at that time,” Ovechkin said. “So right now, this game is the biggest game of the year for us.”
Ovechkin left it to teammates and opponents to dissect the latest points of contention heading into Tuesday night’s conclusion of what has been a first-round series filled with intrigue:
-Did Capitals defenseman Shaone Morrisonn chomp on the right arm of Rangers forward Brandon Dubinsky during a scrum in Game 6? Dubinsky was given an injection and took antibiotics as a precaution; at practice Monday, he unwrapped a bandage to reveal a red wrist to reporters.
“Last time I saw it happen was Mike Tyson biting Evander Holyfield,” Dubinsky said, adding that he is “100 percent sure” Morrisonn’s to blame.
Morrisonn’s take? “I don’t know what to say. That’s not what happened,” he said. “I didn’t do that.”
Boudreau chimed in, too: “I get so ticked off when I hear that. Shaone doesn’t know what the heck they’re talking about, and I don’t either. I looked at it from every different angle and I didn’t see a thing.”
-Morrisonn was not suspended by the NHL, but the league did hand down the second punishment of the series: Capitals enforcer Donald Brashear was barred from a total of six games by the NHL for two transgressions, one before and one during Sunday’s 5-3 Capitals victory.
The bulk of his punishment, five games, came for leveling Blair Betts, New York’s top penalty-killing forward, in the first period. Both players will miss Game 7; Betts has a broken orbital bone.
This comes after the league made Rangers coach John Tortorella sit out Game 6 for his bottle-tossing display in Game 5 at Washington. In response to his faceoff with fans, the Capitals are putting additional security personnel in the area around the visiting bench and looking at what, if anything, can be done to address the Rangers’ concerns about gaps in the glass separating spectators from the bench.
It was Tortorella who acknowledged Monday that his team has been “a little uptight at certain times.”
Which raises the question: Who is under more pressure?
Second-seeded Washington, because it has returned to the favorite’s role now that the series is tied and the deciding game is in the nation’s capital?
Or seventh-seeded New York, because it led the series 2-0 and 3-1 before being routed in Games 5 and 6?
“It’s built up too much: ‘The pressure is on them.”The pressure is on us.’ At this point, it doesn’t matter,” Rangers forward Scott Gomez said. “It’s one game – throw the other junk out. This is Game 7. There’s pressure everywhere.”
Washington’s players, meanwhile, kept talking about the sense of “desperation” that helped the team come back to even the series. They might very well take heart from two key statistical swings.
After being shut out in Game 1-3, Ovechkin has scored a goal in each of the past three games. Plus, after allowing Washington to score a total of eight goals in Games 1-4, Rangers goalie Henrik Ljundqvist has given up nine goals over his past four periods. He was yanked before the third period in each of the past two games.
“Hank’s got to play better,” Tortorella said, “and he knows that.”
While most of Washington’s roster experienced the intensity of a Game 7 last season – when the team erased a 3-1 hole against Philadelphia in the first round before losing the deciding game at home in overtime – goalie Simeon Varlamov did not.
He’s a rookie, with only five career NHL starts to his credit before Boudreau switched to him after veteran Jose Theodore allowed four goals in Game 1.
“It wasn’t like I was really sitting there completely assured of what was going to happen,” Boudreau acknowledged.
It’s turned OK, though, right?
“So far,” Boudreau said. “It’ll only be known if we succeed.”
Notes: Capitals captain Chris Clark could play Tuesday after being sidelined since January because of wrist surgery. “Hopefully I have a little more legs than the Rangers have and hopefully I can add some speed,” Clark said. … Varlamov turned 21 on Monday. “He’d better not celebrate like the way normal 21-year-olds celebrate,” Boudreau said. “If I have to tell people to mind their Ps and Qs before a Game 7, then they’re not the kind of people we want, anyway.”
AP Hockey Writer Ira Podell in Greenburgh, N.Y., contributed to this report.