WASHINGTON -- The Washington Capitals were less than seven minutes away from dropping Game 1 of their Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series for the second straight season.
Even worse, Wednesday night’s game against the New York Rangers was playing out exactly the same way the losses to the Montreal Canadiens had a year ago -- missed chances and great goaltending were conspiring against them.
With the Rangers leading 1-0 and time starting to melt away, the Capitals needed something from someone to rescue the night, and captain Alex Ovechkin provided what might be remembered as a series-changing goal, jamming a puck past Henrik Lundqvist with 6:16 remaining to force overtime.
“I was just pleased that we got a goal,” Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau said after Alexander Semin’s OT goal gave Washington a 2-1 victory. “I didn’t know at one point if there was ever going to be a way to beat that guy. Sometimes you need a greasy goal like that and it sparks your team.”
When the Capitals had shot pucks at Lundqvist from various angles with no success, Ovechkin resorted to sheer force and will. The tying goal started with a long stretch pass from Mike Green to Semin, who lost the puck as he entered the offensive zone -- but Ovechkin was there to collect it and cut towards the net.
It was Ovechkin’s turn to lose the puck, but he stopped at the edge of the crease to provide a screen for Semin, who tried to beat Lundqvist from just behind Ovechkin but was denied a couple of times.
Ovechkin started jamming away at the loose puck, and it ended up in the net just as chaos ensured and Lundqvist was knocked into the cage.
“I didn’t see the puck. I just try to hit something and it goes in,” Ovechkin said. “I didn’t see. I saw [Semin] was screaming, ‘Goal! Goal!’ So then I was excited and start celebrating.”
Added Semin through a translator: “Henrik Lundqvist is a great goalie and it’s very difficult to score an easy one on him so we couldn’t get a nice goal. So we scored a junk goal -- just pushed it in. Whatever worked.”
There was a lengthy review on the play. Clearly the puck had crossed the line, but the net had also come off the moorings and a whistle had been blown at some point. The key was the referee behind the play did signal that it was a good goal, and the replay showed the puck was in the net before the post came off the peg.
The wait was an agonizing one for Boudreau.
“I’m never confident, because people who have followed us would know that every time there’s been one of those [reviews] it has gone against us -- somehow, some way,” Boudreau said. “You could tell the puck was in the net but the two things you didn’t know was whether the whistle was blown and whether the net was off from the angle we were looking at. That’s why I was asking the linesman if he called it a goal on the ice because that was important.”
It was the 21st career playoff goal for Ovechkin -- certainly not one for the highlight reels but it carried plenty of importance.
“Those are our skilled guys in there mucking in front of the net and jamming one in. Probably the last guys you’d think would be doing that,” Knuble said. “It was great to see. The ones where they have to call upstairs and find out what actually happened are the best goals I think.”
The Washington captain was in the midst of a standout performance even before the goal. Ovechkin led all players with six hits, including a thunderous check on Brandon Dubinsky -- a guy he fought earlier in the season -- and another big one on defenseman Marc Staal.
Ovechkin logged 26:46 and attempted 15 shots -- six were on target while seven were blocked and two missed the net. At one point he crashed into Lundqvist and the goaltender came away from the collision shaking his right wrist.
It was a physical, gritty type of game -- and Ovechkin was in the middle of a lot of it.
“You can see, I think in overtime they were a little bit tired and we were fresher,” Ovechkin said. “They make a couple mistakes in overtime, and one mistake costs them a goal. This game is done and we have to relax and be ready for the next game.”