If you happen to see Alex Ovechkin
leaving the Verizon Center in Washington late Friday night with a smile on his face, it won't necessarily mean the Capitals beat the Bruins. It's because the Russian superstar knows it'll be another month before he sees his biggest nemesis.
That's a role Bruins defenseman Zdeno Chara
has fit into -- literally and figuratively.
The Caps and Bruins will meet for the third time in 18 days tonight when the team square off in Washington (7 p.m. ET, NHLN-US), and the only thing you can be sure of is that Ovechkin and Chara will be seeing a lot of each other.
After tonight, the teams will meet one final time in the regular season -- Dec. 18 in Boston.
When the teams met in a home-and-home set Oct. 19 and 21, it was an epic clash between two of the best at their positions. In the first game, in Verizon Center, Chara played 29:05, while Ovechkin played 23:36, and a good portion of that was against each other. Chara held the two-time League MVP scoreless, with just five shots and a minus-2 rating. Goalie Tim Thomas
stopped all five of Ovechkin's shots, and 35 of 36 on the night as the Bruins took a 3-1 win.
"It's pretty hard to make a move against him because if you make a move he's still going to catch you because his stick is long and he's tough." -- Alex Ovechkin on playing against Zdeno Chara
Two nights later, when they had the rematch at TD Garden, Chara celebrated his team's home opener by not only again holding Ovechkin off the score sheet -- Ovechkin had eight shots in 25:53 of ice time -- but Chara scored his first goal of the season and played 28:57. Thomas also was outstanding, stopping 38 of 39 shots as Boston completed the sweep with a 4-1 victory.
Not many defensemen can stem the offensive tide that Ovechkin brings on a nightly basis. But at 6-foot-9 -- that's without skates -- the Bruins captain brings a unique skill set to the equation.
"It's pretty hard to make a move against him because if you make a move he's still going to catch you because his stick is long and he's tough," said Ovechkin. "What you have to do is chip the puck on the board and try to skate around him, or pass it and try to skate around him."
Chara also looks forward to the game within the game. Like most top defensemen, he takes pride in facing the other teams' best players -- and when it's the Capitals that means a steady dose of Ovechkin, as well as his talented linemates, Nicklas Backstrom
and Mike Knuble
"Playing Alex is always a challenge," said Chara. "We are good friends off the ice, we respect each other, but on the ice we perform for our teams the best we can and play hard. Both of us play very aggressively and we just try to win for our teams."
It won't just be their performance that dictates how the game goes. In goal, Thomas has been nothing short of astounding. He enters the game having allowed just five goals on 220 shots in starting the season 7-0-0. He leads the League with a 0.72 goals-against average, .977 save percentage and three shutouts. And in 18 career games against the Caps, Thomas is 12-4-2 with a 2.44 GAA.
At the other end of the ice is Michal Neuvirth
, October's NHL Rookie of the Month. The 22-year-old enters with two straight wins and four victories in his last five games. He's 8-3-0 with a 2.31 GAA and .920 save percentage. Neuvirth was sick for the teams' earlier meetings, playing parts of both games but finishing neither.
The streaking teams also could rise to prominent places in the standings. The Caps have won two straight, and a victory could vault them past Philadelphia and into the top spot in the Eastern Conference. The Bruins have won three in a row, and a fourth could push them past Montreal for first place in the Northeast Division.
So many battles, so much to smile about.
Contact Adam Kimelman at email@example.com