NHL Playoffs: Capitals 5, Flyers 4
Associated PressWASHINGTON ó Alex Ovechkin was bumped around, boxed in and, well, pretty much Broad Street Bullied for most of his NHL playoff debut.
And then, with the outcome hanging in the balance, Alex the Great emerged.
Held without a single shot until late, the league’s leading scorer stole the puck and netted the tiebreaking goal with 41/2 minutes remaining, giving the Washington Capitals a 5-4 victory over the Philadelphia Flyers in Game 1 of their Eastern Conference series Friday night.
“They held him in check pretty good,” Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau said, “but he’s one of the guys that needs one chance.”
That’s pretty much all Ovechkin got against the Flyers, who led 4-2 heading into the final period, thanks to two goals apiece by Danny Briere and Vaclav Prospal. But Ovechkin got going by helping set up the first of two goals by defenseman Mike Green that lifted Washington into a tie.
And then Ovechkin, the 22-year-old Russian who set a NHL record for goals by a left wing this season with 65, put the finishing touch on the Capitals’ first playoff game since 2003. He took the puck away from defenseman Lasse Kukkonen and slid it past goalie Martin Biron, drawing “M-V-P!” chants from the red-clad fans.
“A pretty veteran move,” said Sergei Fedorov, a 38-year-old who would know, having earned 1994 league MVP honors and three Stanley Cup championships with Detroit.
Looking at the way his young teammate handled himself all night, Fedorov lavished more praise on Ovechkin.
“It’s not easy: so much talk about everything and such a great season,” Fedorov said. “Playoffs is a little different. I’m actually surprised ó really amazed ó that he kept himself so together, so cool in the final moments of the game.”
Before the game, Boudreau was asked how his young team would handle the postseason. The answer might have sounded surprising: “I think of anybody, the most nervous guy is probably Alex.”
And afterward Ovechkin confirmed that he had the jitters.
“It was different,” Ovechkin said between gasps of air.
Perhaps he was winded thanks to his goal celebration. First, he sprinted over and slammed his body into the glass. Then, he did a high-step along the boards. And finally, he skated all the way down to the other end to exchange high-fives with Washington goalie Cristobal Huet.
“We did a good job of containing him,” Philadelphia’s Scottie Upshall said, “for the first 45 minutes.”
Not long enough, clearly.
Game 2 is Sunday at Washington, where the hosts have won seven straight games. They’ve also won eight in a row overall, and 12 of 13.