The numbers don’t lie. At the end of the first period of Game 2 of the Eastern Conference semifinals, star winger Alex Ovechkin had played a grand total of 3 minutes, 33 seconds. Seven forwards saw more ice time than a player who not long ago won two Hart Trophies. Is this real life? Jay Beagle – and improving player and a nice story – skated 7:21 in the first period alone. It was a career-low in ice time (13:36) for a Stanley Cup playoff game and Ovechkin has played in 46 of them. And, yet, Ovechkin is dealing with it. He scored the game-winning goal on a power play late in the third period.
“I feel good. You have to suck it up and use time what [Caps coach 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.”
Fair enough. Ovechkin is straddling the line here of admitting he wants to be out on the ice more, but accepting that under this coach and at this time of year that isn’t happening. Hunter tried to argue that there have been times this season when he’s double-shifted Ovechkin into a 26-minute night. And he has. But right now, when the games matter the most and his team is holding tight to leads, Hunter is employing other forwards.
“Dale, anybody who's following our team, you see he's coaching the situations. He's playing certain guys,” veteran winger Mike Knuble said. “If we're down a goal, [Ovechkin is] going to be our main guy. He's going every other shift. If we're up a goal, then Dale tends to lean on other guys. That's the way it is. I guess they can talk about it this summer after the season and figure it out. For now it's working and we're going to run with it.”
He’s not the only one who saw less ice time. Defenseman Mike Green had a rough first period as the Rangers smashed him into the boards time and again. He eventually settled down. But he played just 18:14, Nicklas Backstrom skated 16:18 and Alex Semin had 12:27 of ice time. Hunter also argued that limited ice time kept Ovechkin fresh for the power play and that he was rolling all four lines – though the final ice time totals don’t seem to reflect that.
“There’s obviously some game-within-a-game. You’re trying to match up, trying to do some penalty kills,” forward Jason Chimera said. “And it’s a see-saw battle and [Ovechkin is] taking it in stride. It’s hard to argue when we’re winning hockey games. And he came through when we needed him and that’s the biggest thing.”
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