NEW YORK -- After being held pointless and to just two shots in the Washington Capitals' 4-3 Game 3 loss Monday night, Alex Ovechkin was again contained by the New York Rangers, who tied their Eastern Conference Quarterfinals series at two games apiece Wednesday in another 4-3 decision.
And it didn't take long for the Capitals’ captain to see exactly how the Rangers would look to shut him down.
Just seconds into his first shift of Game 4, Ovechkin was bowled over by a hard hit from Taylor Pyatt. That big hit set the tone for Washington's top line of Ovechkin, Nicklas Backtrom and Marcus Johansson, who collected one goal and no assists in Games 3 and 4 after combining for two goals and three points in their 3-1 series-opening victory last Thursday.
"We just didn't play well tonight, bottom line. They didn't do something special," said Ovechkin, who finished the regular season by scoring 23 goals in 23 games. "Pressure is all the time there. We have to handle it and have to play simple. Sometimes we had an opportunity to make a big play, but we didn't."
Ovechkin couldn't pinpoint anything the Rangers did to slow him down, but Washington's top line was shadowed the entire night by the defensive pairing of Ryan McDonagh and Dan Girardi, as well as forwards Ryan Callahan and Derek Stepan. It was that unit's physical play that at least partially contributed to the Ovechkin line's struggles in Washington's two losses.
"He's an elite player and he's probably used to taking big hits. We need to be physical when we can on him," McDonagh said. "He's a strong player on his skates and he sees the ice so well, so he's a tough player to hit because he's so mobile. Any time we can get a lick, we have to try to do that."
Whenever possible in the last two games, the Rangers have looked to cut down the amount of open ice the Capitals' top line has had. That often meant slowing the pace of the game, a key strategy against a line that has proven to be potent on the rush.
"I think it starts more with our structure in the neutral zone. The first couple of games, we were kind of running around there and they were able to gain speed," McDonagh said. "These last two games at home, we've minimized the speed at times. That whole line, they're dumping the puck a lot more and that only helps our chances of getting it out."
Ovechkin's struggles on the road so far in this series run contrary to what he was able to do through much of the regular season. Of his League-leading 32 goals, only 13 were scored at home, which is where the series will return for Game 5 Friday. If the Capitals hope to win what is now a best-of-3 series, they'll need more big plays from their top line and their captain.
"They had their moments, but obviously they could generate more," Capitals coach Adam Oates said. "You've got to fight through the frustration. It happens."