(Voorhees, NJ) – When it comes to stopping the Washington Capitals, the question inevitably becomes, how do you stop Alexander Ovechkin?
It's a question that the Philadelphia Flyers will try to find an answer to as they prepare for Game 1 of their Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series on Friday night (Comcast SportsNet, Versus,
7:00 p.m.). Ovechkin finished with 65 goals this season, the most by a left wing in league history. At the very least, slowing down arguably the best player in the game will be one of the biggest keys to having success against the Southeast Division Champions.
“He’s 100 miles an hour 100 percent of the time,” said the individual who may be most responsible for keeping him in check, goaltender Martin Biron. “He shoots hard, skates hard, hits hard and plays hard. He’ll do it all.
|Alex Ovechkin skates against the Flyers during a game at the Wachovia Center on February 6. (Getty Images) |
“You have guys scoring 30 and 35 goals and you think that’s a pretty good year offensively, and then you look at him he’s got 65. It’s pretty amazing. He’s the kind of player that makes everybody excited about the game. It’s definitely a big challenge and we’re excited about facing that challenge.”
Ovechkin had three goals and two assists for five points in four games against the Flyers this season. His career numbers are even more impressive, with nine goals and seven assists for 16 points in eight games.
While his goal total stands out right away when looking at his overall stats, another aspect of Ovechkin’s game that makes him even more dynamic is his physical play. While some offensive stars have a tendency to let up when they are knocked around, Ovechkin doesn’t shy away from contact.
In fact, according to Vaclav Prospal, sometimes he’s the one initiating it.
“He’s one of the superstars that is not bothered by the physical play,” said Prospal, who faced Ovechkin several times in the recent past as a member of Washington’s division rivals, the Tampa Bay Lightning. “Sometimes early if the game isn’t going his way, he even looks for it. He’s a complete player.”
“He’s a real competitive guy. He loves to score goals, he loves to throw body checks, and we’re ready for that,” added Joffrey Lupul. “We’re ready for him to come out and play physical, and we’re going to play physical right back at him. We’re not going to back down from a physical challenge, and I don’t think he is either. It should be a fun matchup for everyone to watch.”
Ovechkin’s enthusiasm for the game also helps to set him apart from past and present NHL stars. His goal celebrations have become legendary since he broke into the league just three seasons ago.
“I think the one thing that sets him above other guys that have the same skill set, is his hunger to play and to score goals,” said Lupul. “You can see his excitement on the ice. He feeds off the fans, and he feeds off of scoring goals.
Lupul added that the best way to keep Ovechkin off of the scoreboard is to stay on the attack. He may have a hand in that, as it is expected that John Stevens will want to keep Lupul’s line, which includes Mike Richards, matched up against Ovechkin as much as possible.
“If we take the puck and play the puck in Washington’s end, that’s not his strong point. He’s not a guy that wants to play defensive hockey that much. We’ll try and contain him that way.”Briere updateDanny Briere
took part in a full practice on Tuesday for the first time since suffering a lower body injury on April 2 in Pittsburgh. He was forced to sit out the final two games of the regular season.
“Today was a much better day,” he said. “I felt a lot more comfortable and started doing some battling drills and got in there a few times. The nice thing is we still have two full days. I like the progress just from yesterday to today.”
Stevens thought the improvement was visible.
“Danny looked a lot better today,” said the head coach. “He looked like he got his jump back, and we’ll see how he responds after the workout and the rest of the day. He looked much better today.”Smith’s status
Head Coach John Stevens was asked about the status of captain Jason Smith, who has not practiced with the team this week due to an upper body injury.
“We’re resting him to see if we can’t get him back on the ice before the weekend,” said Stevens.
Derian Hatcher is also not expected to play in Game 1, and should Smith not be able to play, it would mean rookie Ryan Parent will most likely make his playoff debut.
“I have to make sure I’m ready if I’m needed,” said the 20-year-old defenseman.