Alex Ovechkin doesn't have a goal through three games against the New York Rangers, but in the pivotal Game 3 at Madison Square Garden he picked up two assists and made some sparking defensive plays to help his team slice its deficit to 2-1 with a 4-0 win.
"They concentrate on me all the time," Ovechkin said. "They have three players on me all the time. I watched lots of video, thought about my game and tried to do different things and they couldn't control it."
The key play Ovechkin made was on arguably the best backcheck of these playoffs so far, and we're talking in the Eastern Conference or the Western Conference.
Nicklas Backstrom lost the puck at the blue line on a Caps' power play just over 13 minutes into the second period and it led to a breakaway for Rangers center Lauri Korpikoski.
Instead of letting Korpikoski go in on rookie goalie Simeon Varlamov, Ovechkin skated as fast and as hard as he could to chase Korpikoski. He got close enough and whipped his stick around the Ranger, touching the puck with his stick blade first to avoid a penalty.
The puck went bounding toward the left wing boards and Ovechkin and Korpikoski went barreling into the net. No penalty, which means no penalty shot. More importantly, no short-handed goal, which preserved the Caps' 3-0 lead at the time.
"You know, it's the playoffs and everything you've got you have to give to keep it out of the net," Ovechkin said. "I am playing on the point and I have lots of responsibility on the point there. If I have a chance to take a penalty when they have a breakaway I will take it, but I felt pretty good (Monday night) and I felt I could catch him and I caught him."
Washington coach Bruce Boudreau called it "a tremendous leadership play," and marveled that Ovechkin did it "without taking a penalty."
"I mean, this is the end of his shift and he's exhausted and you see the effort he's putting in," Boudreau said. "How can players not read off that and say if he's going to try that hard and make such a great defensive play at a very pivotal point in the game how can we not work that hard. That's why he is who he is."
Ovechkin said he had enough time while backchecking to see what Korpikoski wanted to do and where he was carrying the puck. The rest was on instinct.
"I think I have more speed than him and I just did my best," Ovechkin said. "I played safe and it's working. I just played defensive hockey and it worked."
Offensively, he was pretty decent, too.
On Alexander Semin's first goal 6:57 into the game, Ovechkin touched the puck to Backstrom, who fed a crossing pass to Semin for the goal. Ovechkin had the primary assist on Semin's second goal less than five minutes later when he fed him on a backdoor play from behind the goal line for a one-timer.
After getting 19 shots on net in the first two games while having another 17 blocked plus eight miss totally, Ovechkin threw only 14 shots at the net Monday night, five of which went on goal.
That's not a lot for the player who led the NHL in the regular season with 558 shots, an average of 6.7 per game, but it was good enough for the Caps on Monday night.
"It only makes sense that when you're getting probably close to 40 shots at the net that they're keying on him," Boudreau said. "He's a smart enough player and an unselfish enough player that if he knows everybody is keying on him, it's probably not bad if he moves the puck a little bit. I thought all our so-called stars stepped it up."
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