Capitals left wing Alex Ovechkin took just four shifts in the third period in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinal series against Boston on Thursday. He played exactly 15 seconds over the final 14 minutes. That’s a shocking lack of use – until you consider that Washington was up 2-1 and that coach Dale Hunter was going all out to protect the lead. Ovechkin says he was healthy and happy with his play and didn’t appear to want to discuss the issue for long.
“No. I don’t think [Hunter] had to tell me something about this,” Ovechkin told reporters at Kettler Iceplex after a light practice on Friday before the team traveled to Boston for Game 5. “Of course I want to be out there but it’s his decision and I can appreciate four guys for how they play and we win the game. It’s the most important thing. It doesn’t matter how many minutes I play. Of course I want to be there, but it’s his decision.”
There was one penalty kill in the middle of the period after Mike Knuble was whistled for holding. Ovechkin wasn’t going to be out during that successful two-minute kill. Otherwise, Hunter used Matt Hendricks-Jay Beagle-Troy Brouwer as a line four times and Knuble-Keith Aucoin-Joel Ward four times over those last 14 minutes. An effort to get the best defensive players on the ice?
“Part of it. But we were matching lines, and they were going back to the [Patrice] Bergeron line a lot,” Hunter said. “So sometimes some lines get short-changed a bit but they do whatever it takes to win the game.”
Jason Chimera-Mathieu Perreault-Alex Semin took to the ice together just twice. Brooks Laich took two brief shifts with his No. 1 linemates, Ovechkin and Marcus Johansson, but otherwise was a jack-of-all trades. He took shifts with Johansson and Brouwer, Brouwer and Knuble and for the final faceoff of the game was with Beagle and Hendricks.
It wasn’t a tough decision to sit Ovechkin, Hunter said, because matching lines was the game plan going in. He simply stuck with it. Of course, Johansson and Laich saw plenty of ice time late in the game so this likely says more about Ovechkin and his natural instincts than his line itself. Hunter did credit his star winger for creating the game’s first goal early in the first period by pressuring the puck in the neutral zone. To Hunter, it’s about creating roles and having players accept them.
“At the end of the game there, you've got your shot-blockers out there and you want your best players blocking shots,” Hunter said. “But your offensive guys, you don't want them breaking a foot, either. [Jay Beagle] has got the knack. You see at the end of the game, he slid at the right time? It takes timing, and [Ovechkin] at the end of the game, we were down the other night a goal, he was the guy we had to go to.”
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