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NHL playoffs: Capitals even series with Rangers

BY ZAC BOYER

NEW YORK—Alex Ovechkin wasn’t visible for much of the Washington Capitals’ first two periods Monday against the New York Rangers. It wasn’t that he wasn’t contributing; it was that he wasn’t even allowed to contribute.

Left on the bench for all but 9:14 of the first 40 minutes, Ovechkin made his presence felt in the third period. The winger scored a power-play goal off a faceoff with 7:27 to play, giving the Capitals a 3–2 victory over the Rangers in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference semifinals at Madison Square Garden.

The victory gives the Capitals the chance to take a lead in the seven-game series when Game 3 is played Wednesday at Verizon Center.

“You have to suck it up and use what time Dale [Hunter, the head coach] has given to me, and again, first period, two periods, I didn’t play a lot,” said Ovechkin, whose 13:36 on ice was a career playoff low. “Like, I had a couple opportunities. I didn’t use it. In third, two power-play [tries]—I think on first power play, we talk well, and then second one, it just finally goes in.”

Mike Knuble and Jason Chimera, who had his second goal in two games, also scored for the Capitals, leading to a 2–0 advantage with 40 seconds remaining in the first period. Brad Richards then scored a 4-on-4 goal for the Rangers, and Ryan Callahan scored on the power play 6:58 into the third period to tie the score.

Ovechkin’s goal, his third of the postseason, came suddenly. With Richards just sent to the box for holding, Nicklas Backstrom won the faceoff against Brian Boyle and sent the puck back to Ovechkin, who rifled a wrister past Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist that was aided by a screen from Troy Brouwer.

“I know he likes to shoot, and I was just trying to win the draw,” Backstrom said. “I mean, I think it was a really good screen we put on them too by Brouwer. We’ve been struggling a little bit, and it’s great to get a goal on the power play. We’ve just got to keep going.”

The Capitals, until that point, had been 0 for 6 in the series with the advantage, including two missed opportunities earlier in the game.

Ovechkin played only 3:33 in the first period, including 2:30 at even strength, and was on the ice for 5:41 in the second period. His longest shift of the game was in the closing minutes of the second period, when he was on for 2:32—a span broken up by the Capitals’ timeout and two icing calls.

The star winger’s ice time has been a question throughout the postseason. He played just 1:54 in the third period of the Capitals’ 2–1 victory over Boston in Game 4 of the first round and then played just 15:34 against the Bruins in Game 5, a career low in playoff minutes.

Before this season, the least time Ovechkin had seen on the ice in the playoffs was 19:32, which he played in Game 3 against the Rangers in the first round last year.

It was a topic Ovechkin didn’t want to address after the game. During it, though, he played the part of a team player, visibly cheering on and yelling for his teammates from the bench.

“Well, it’s most important thing right now, guys, just win the series and win the game,” Ovechkin said. “You know, if you’re gonna talk about my game time and all that kind of stuff you have to suck it up and play for your team.”

Braden Holtby had 26 saves for the Capitals, who managed 25 shots on Lundqvist.

Washington will return home for Game 3 on Wednesday in a similar position as it did against the Bruins—with the series tied at a game apiece. That’s fortunate for the Capitals, who did not have history on their side: In the six series where they lost the first two games, they advanced only once.

“It’s big,” Holtby said. “I mean, we look at series as not a sprint, it’s a marathon. It was big to get home ice advantage for us, and that was our goal coming in—a split, for sure. Nothing less than that, but we’re positioning ourselves very well.”

Zac Boyer: 540/374-5440

zboyer@freelancestar.com

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