NEW YORK -- Alex Ovechkin is one of the most dynamic players in hockey. He commands attention from top defensive players every time he steps on the ice. For seven games in the first round of the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs, he battled with Boston’s Zdeno Chara and Dennis Seidenberg, exchanging huge body blows with each while trying to find space to produce offense.
Ovechkin isn’t likely to face the same physical warfare in the second round against the New York Rangers, but Dan Girardi and Ryan McDonagh were the best defensive pairing in hockey at neutralizing tough competition this season.
For Game 1 of this series at Madison Square Garden, NHL.com focused on Ovechkin, how Washington coach Dale Hunter tried to get him ice time away from Girardi and McDonagh, and how the impressive duo was able to keep the Caps' superstar in check during a 3-1 victory for the Rangers.
"It is big responsibility," McDonagh said. "He’s a big-time player on their team and a guy they look for to step up. We really just try to do it in [groups of] fives. It really helps when our forwards are back pressuring him. It allows us to stay up on him. We just keep it simple against him."
Here is a shift-by-shift recap of Ovechkin’s long afternoon at the Garden:
20:00 Ovechkin started for the Capitals, but not with his normal linemates -- he opened with checkers Jay Beagle and Troy Brouwer. Hunter has to put his lineup in first, so New York coach John Tortorella countered with his top line (Carl Hagelin, Brad Richards and Marian Gaborik) and the guys Ovechkin should expect to see a lot of, Girardi and McDonagh, on defense.
Hunter was expected to want the Beagle line against Richards and Gaborik, but throwing Ovechkin out there may have forced Tortorella to start Girardi and McDonagh. Ovechkin went to the bench after the opening faceoff, but Girardi and McDonagh stayed out -- which is exactly what Hunter was looking for.
19:25 Ovechkin came right back out for the second shift of the game with his regular linemates -- Brooks Laich and Jason Chimera -- after a stoppage of play for a defensive faceoff. Because it had only been 35 seconds, Girardi and McDonagh stayed out to play against Ovechkin and they ended up with a long shift (1:38) in the process.
Chimera was a surprise addition to the top line -- Brouwer practiced with Laich and Ovechkin on Friday, and they took pregame warmups together as well. Chimera said he found out he was playing with Ovechkin and Laich on the bench just before the game started.
A big problem for Ovechkin’s line in the Boston series was getting out of its own end, and that was the case on this first shift against New York as well. The Rangers generated a couple of near misses, while the Capitals struggled to get the puck out of danger. It was a bit of foreshadowing.
16:58 Ovechkin’s line got out for an offensive zone faceoff against Rangers’ defensemen Marc Staal and Stu Bickel, but Girardi and McDonagh jumped on almost immediately. The Capitals earned a power play when Mike Rupp ran into goaltender Braden Holtby.
"The coaches are watching it. We’re trying to match him a little bit in this series, but you’re not always going to get the matchup," McDonagh said. "It is other guys out there against him too. [Stall] and Del Zotto and Stralman, Bickel too -- they all did a good job against him."
16:37 Ovechkin stayed out for the power play on the left point, but Alexander Semin short circuited the man advantage by taking a senseless penalty near the benches 28 seconds later.
13:44 Ovechkin’s line hopped on the ice on the fly, but Girardi and McDonagh joined them almost immediately. It turned out to be a quick shift -- the Washington captain was back on the bench after 31 seconds of ... not much.
12:00 The Capitals had an offensive-zone faceoff after an icing by the Rangers, and this was the perfect spot for Hunter to get Ovechkin away from Girardi and McDonagh. Staal and Stralman were out for essentially an entire 37-second shift against Ovechkin, but the Rangers won the faceoff and cleared the puck out of danger; the Capitals never really threatened before another change.
9:24 Ovechkin’s line rejoined the play on the fly and it ended up being the trio’s best shift of the period. Girardi and McDonagh joined in progress, but the Capitals were able to keep the puck in the New York end and establish some pressure. Ovechkin had a chance at a one-timer near the top of the left circle but whiffed on it.
7:48 Staal got called for interference and Ovechkin came on as the extra attacker. He’s always the sixth guy -- unless he’s already on the ice for Washington.
7:44 Ovechkin stayed on for the PP and assumed his spot at the left point. He broke his stick on a one-timer and had to race to the bench for a new one. Nicklas Backstrom hit the outside of the post with a shot but otherwise all the Capitals created were a few harmless shots.
3:27 Ovechkin hopped over the boards on the fly; Girardi and McDonagh were already waiting for him. There was a neutral zone faceoff with 2:53 left, and Ovechkin’s line stayed out for it -- as did Girardi and McDonagh. It ended up being Ovechkin’s longest shift of the period (1:18).
At one point, the Rangers successfully executed a breakout and gained the Washington zone by sending an attacker right by Ovechkin and putting the puck out in front of him. That led to some pressure and a great chance for the Rangers, but it also led to a counterattack by Washington.
Ovechkin got the puck and moved in 1-on-2 against Girardi and McDonagh, but after trying to slip the puck past McDonagh he dragged his stick behind him and tripped the defenseman before heading to the penalty box.
0:06 Ovechkin came out of the penalty box to finish the period. He ended it with 10 shifts, though two were less than 10 seconds because of whistles. Ovechkin had 7:40 of ice time, but was credited with no attempts on goal -- even though he tried to shoot twice, whiffing on one and breaking his stick on the other.
20:00 Ovechkin started the period on the bench, replaced by normal third-line wing Matt Hendricks. Tortorella also replaced Girardi and McDonagh -- during a regular-season game it is not uncommon for teams to use the same five guys to start all three periods. This was not a regular-season game, though.
18:19 The Capitals broke out of their own zone shortly after Ovechkin came onto the ice, but his centering pass was between two players and nothing came of it. New York went the other way and had a 4-on-3 break -- in part because Ovechkin let up just after crossing center ice.
14:31 Ovechkin came on the ice and had a few seconds against Michael Del Zotto and Bickel before Girardi and McDonagh joined him. The shift lasted only 21 seconds because of a faceoff in the defensive zone -- one that Hunter opted to go with the Beagle line for.
13:40 Staal was called for holding, so Ovechkin came on for six seconds as an extra attacker. He stayed on for the start of the power play, which became a 5-on-3 with 12:07 remaining because of a boarding call on Brandon Prust.
Ovechkin stayed at the left point for the two-man advantage, but he first fired a shot over the net, then Ruslan Fedotenko blocked his second attempt to ignite the Garden crowd. He later tried to feed a diagonal pass to Backstrom that was tipped into the corner. It ended up being a 138-second shift for Ovechkin, but the Capitals failed to capitalize and missed a key chance to pull ahead.
"We made poor decisions," Chimera said of the power play. "We need to shoot the puck more and get more traffic there. Our power play has got to find ways to win us good hockey games. We could have been up 1-0 or 2-0 for us in the first two periods with our power play."
8:28 Ovechkin started this shift with Beagle and Brouwer, then it turned into a double when Laich and Chimera joined him. The Rangers also turned this shift into a 1-0 lead. Artem Anisimov won a one-on-one battle with Mike Green and came out from behind the net to the left of goaltender Braden Holtby. Ovechkin was there, but tried to knock the puck away from Anisimov with one hand on his stick.
3:10 McDonagh and Girardi started a shift with 4:24 left, but McDonagh got stuck out while Girardi changed. Ovechkin came onto the ice just before McDonagh left, so he had a shift against Girardi and Staal, but it ended after 33 seconds because of a defensive-zone faceoff.
0:33 Ovechkin’s line finally found some space in transition and made the Rangers pay. Laich lofted a perfect saucer pass to Chimera, who in his words "whacked at it" and it went in. Ovechkin was driving toward the net in the middle of the ice. The Rangers got caught trying to get Girardi and McDonagh on the ice -- Girardi came on but Chimera got a step on him and scored just four seconds into his shift. McDonagh never made it out.
Ovechkin finished the second period with seven shifts for a total of 5:46 of ice time and three attempted shots -- but none were on target.
19:18 Ovechkin got his first -- and only -- shot on net during his first shift of the third period, but it was a weak one from the top of the offensive zone that Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist had no trouble with. Girardi and McDonagh changed with 18:09 remaining, but Ovechkin extended his shift -- 85 seconds at even strength in a tie game was precisely the type of thing that frustrated former coach Bruce Boudreau. It was also a sign of Ovechkin’s frustration at not accomplishing anything against New York’s dynamite duo.
Hunter was criticized for limiting Ovechkin’s ice time during the third period against Boston, and he skipped the top line the second time through to start this final period. Backstrom’s line came back out after a shift by Beagle’s line, and that group’s inability to keep the puck in the offensive zone, combined with a communication error by the defense corps, led to New York’s second goal with 13:00 remaining.
12:37 After a quick shift for the Beagle line, there was an offensive-zone faceoff so Hunter sent the Ovechkin trio over the boards. The Rangers got the puck out of danger and spent a long shift in the Washington zone that resulted in the third goal.
Chimera took responsibility for Richards having a free path to the net, but Ovechkin was also partially responsible. He had drifted out toward the blue line at the right point when Richards cut to the net and received a pass from Chris Kreider. Dennis Wideman also had to deal with Gaborik in the slot -- a guy Ovechkin raced toward to cover but didn’t get to in time -- and Wideman was stuck in a 2-on-1 situation. Richards patiently picked a hole on Holtby and scored with 11:30 left.
11:04 With the Capitals down two goals, Hunter shuffled the lines. Ovechkin’s next shift came with Backstrom and Marcus Johansson. It was desperation time, but the Rangers were able to thwart the attack with simple plays and sound positioning to get the puck out of the zone.
9:45 Ovechkin came out with Backstrom and Johansson again, but again little offense was created. The Washington captain did have a big hit behind the play on Staal that drew the ire of the Garden crowd.
7:53 Ovechkin hopped onto the ice in the middle of a loud, derisive chant in his honor. Thirteen seconds later, another miscommunication by the Capitals resulted in a too many men penalty, which Ovechkin served.
5:40 Ovechkin came out of the penalty box for another long shift. Near the end of it, he went on a dash through the neutral zone with the puck that ended with him stomach-first on the ice in the right circle. He went down, but the officials deemed it not worthy of a penalty. He went to the bench yelling at the nearest linesman about the non-call, and kicked at the bench upon arrival.
2:28 One final shift for Ovechkin, and it lasted nearly two minutes. Shortly after he came on the ice, Holtby went to the bench for an extra attacker. When the Rangers got the puck out of the offensive zone with about 35 seconds left, a dejected Ovechkin skated slowly to the bench.
"Well, I have couple chances, especially in [the] third," Ovechkin said. "One time I just missed the net. It was empty corner. Sometimes you have to go a different way and today was that kind of night."
Ovechkin finished the third period with 7:37 of ice time on seven shifts, one shot on goal and one other attempt that just missed. He finished the game with 21:03 of ice time, but only one shot on goal and the Rangers took advantage of his line at the defensive end of the ice.
"We know they want to get up and he wants to play in the offensive zone," McDonagh said. "We know if we make him defend a little bit, not just him but that line in general, it wears on them and tires them down and maybe he doesn’t get that last burst of speed to rush on us. It is great to see us generating a little bit there and it has got to continue."
Added Chimera: "Yeah, I think it wears on you. I think you have to get in their zone and create more pressure. Anytime you spend a lot of time in your zone, bad things happen. They can score goals. Look at the first goal -- I think [Holtby] tried to poke it with the stick and it went through him. I think it is a lucky goal, but stuff like that happens when you spend too much time in your own zone."
Round One was a victory not only for the Rangers, but for Girardi and McDonagh, who led all skaters with 25:04 of ice time (Girardi was second with 24:38). Ovechkin spend 71 percent of his ice time at even strength against Girardi and more than 65 against McDonagh.
Hunter did try to get Ovechkin away from them in a few different ways during the first two periods, but once the Capitals fell behind it didn’t really matter.
"It doesn’t change," Tortorella said of Girardi and McDonagh. "They just continue to play. They were real good, spent a lot of time on the ice. That’s their job and they do it complete almost every night."
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