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Ovechkin scores game-winner in limited ice time

by Corey Masisak

NEW YORK -- Alex Ovechkin normally earns so much attention for what he does on the ice. But in the past two weeks, much of the focus has shifted to all the time he is not.

For the third time in the past five games, Ovechkin on Monday played less than 17 minutes in a Stanley Cup Playoff game for the Washington Capitals. This time, Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals against the New York Rangers, he played a career-low in the postseason (13:36), but also scored the game-winning goal in a 3-2 victory that evened the series at one game each.


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"I feel good. You have to suck it up and use time what Dale [Hunter] is giving to me," Ovechkin said. "First period, two periods I didn't play a lot and I have a couple opportunities I didn't use it. In third, two power plays -- I think on first power play we move well and on second one finally it goes in.

"It's most important thing right now guys just win the series and win the game. If you gonna talk about my game time and all that kind of stuff, it's not a season – it's the playoffs. How I said before, you have to suck it up and play for team."

Ovechkin played 17:01 in Game 4 against Boston during the first round, and has played less than that in three of the past five games. He has been Washington's best player and face of the franchise since he first stepped off a plane from Russia in 2005, and seeing his low time on ice totals has been a bit of a shock for fans of the team, and even some of his teammates.

Still, the Capitals have been successful. They are 4-0 in those games where he has played 17:01 or less and 0-2 in the two where he played more than 21 minutes.

"I don't know what his ice was. I'm not in charge of that," Brooks Laich said. "He scored the winning goal. That's all that matters. Different games are going to play out. The first period, actually till about halfway through the second, I didn't think that our line had back-to-back 5-on-5 shifts with the penalties and the power plays and 4-on-4 the way it was. That's the way the game goes sometimes, but he came through in the clutch."

Added veteran forward Mike Knuble: "It is pretty evident when we keep going down the line [on the bench]. You get down to the last six or seven minutes and he's not out there and Dale starts moving lines around. I don't know, man. Who cares as long as he scores? I hope he's not too annoyed by it. I'm sure he is, there's no hiding that -- he wants more ice. I get it. Scoring the game winner tonight takes a little bit of the sting out of it."

Hunter has installed a more defensive mentality in the Capitals, and Ovechkin's deficiencies at that end of the ice have been apparent during this postseason. He might be a first-year NHL coach, but Hunter is hockey royalty in Washington from his playing days, and he has had no problem putting the guy with the highest salary cap hit in the League on the bench in key situations.

Ovechkin played only 3:33 in the first period of this contest, and had 9:14 through two periods -- but that was only because of a monster 2:32 shift that included multiple icings on the Capitals. Hunter took Ovechkin off the ice twice when the team had an offensive-zone faceoff in the first period. He put Ovechkin's line out, but replaced him with Jay Beagle so the center could take the faceoff.

Still, the Capitals earned back-to-back power plays in the third period, and Ovechkin was out there to collect a key goal and salvage a split before this series shifts back to Washington.

"I think he's been public about not really caring for it, but that's sort of what is going on around here," Knuble said. "We've got guys who have played more at times, and guys that have sat. Dale is very situational and tells us what is going on. The last game we were down, so [Ovechkin] is going to go every other shift and there's the trade off. I guess at this point in the year it is how it's going to go, and we'll abide by it."

Added Hunter: "He's a team guy. One thing about that, it leaves him real fresh for the power play. The power play was good tonight, and he had the winner on it, and he was fresh to go on the offensive game."

Ovechkin wasn't alone in not seeing a lot of ice time in this contest. Alexander Semin only played 12:27, which was a career low in the postseason. Nicklas Backstrom played 16:18 -- also the least of his career in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

But Backstrom was the guy who won the faceoff with Washington on the power play, and Ovechkin collected it before snapping a wrist shot through traffic for his third goal of the postseason.

Ovechkin let out a scream that could be heard in the rafters at Madison Square Garden and cupped his glove to his ear, mocking a crowd that has been derisively chanting his name with eight minutes left in every period.

"Hey, it is a big stage and a great moment for him," Knuble said. "That's why he's our best player. He's got to score in big times like that."

Added Ovechkin: "The crowd pay their money and they like to yell. They are fans and they support their team. I'm sure they will be yelling in Washington, too."

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