Alex Ovechkin sets the tone for the Washington Capitals rally with a new look and offensive spark


TSN Toronto reporter Mark Masters receives daily NHL playoff news and notes. On Wednesday, the New York Islanders and Washington Capitals hosted Zoom sessions after optional skates. The Tampa Bay Lightning and Columbus Blue Jackets held zoom sessions after their game five.

At some point between the end of game 3 and the start of game 4, Alex Ovechkin S removed some of his beard in the playoffs to create a playoff goatee. Then he helped the Washington Capitals reduce their series deficit against the New York Islanders with two goals, including the game winner on Tuesday night.

“Playing with him, what I’ve never really seen before is how much he can take control of a game and how big a impact he can have by dominating a game,” said the defender. . Nick Jensen, who is in his second season with the Capitals, “and we got a glimpse of it last night and we’ll need it here. ”

“O had a great game,” observed the great winger Tom Wilson, “And that’s what leaders do and what superstars do, they step in when needed. ”

After dropping the first three games in New York, it would have been easy for Washington to mentally walk away and prepare to leave the bubble. But Ovechkin wouldn’t let them down without a fight.

It started in the group chat on Monday. Ovechkin has made his new look known.

“O started and ride together, die together,” TJ Oshie told NBC Sports Washington.

So, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Oshie, Ilya Kovalchuk and Radko Gudas joins Ovechkin in the goatee gang. Kuznetsov and Jakub Vrana even shaved their heads.

The Islanders took a 2-0 lead early Tuesday night, but Ovechkin was a man on a mission.

“He’s still got the right release,” said Islanders coach Barry Trotz, who spent four seasons behind the Washington bench, culminating with a Stanley Cup victory in 2018. “He’s a better point guard. and ferryman than he deserves. I think he has refined his game, has a lot more detail in it than when he was younger and he loves the big moments. Last night his team needed someone to lead them and he did [it] and all of those things were in play. He scored two goals, he was physical, blocked a few shots and that’s how you win. ”

Ovechkin now has 69 career playoff goals, surpassing Sidney Crosby and Gordie Howe ranked 18th on the all-time list. And he coached his team in a series that seemed destined to end early.

“Overall, his leadership has developed tremendously,” noted Capitals coach Todd Reirden. “I can’t even define all the ways he grew up… It is about everything from being a father to taking on the role of a leader in the gym and fighting through adversity and ultimately putting this Cup above his own. head. He is hungry to start over. ”

Ovechkin played a big part in Washington’s victory, but Kuznetsov credited a team-wide shift in mindset.

“We just stopped thinking about Corsi [shot attempts], whatever that stat, and just trying to play some fun hockey, “Kuznetsov said in his post-game Zoom session.” We tried to keep the puck and that’s how we got it. always played. It is not a question of the thousand blows, but of the possession. It’s about exhausting them, enjoying them and having fun and that’s how we enjoy the game. If we enjoy the game like that, we’re going to be successful. If we don’t enjoy the game, we won’t be successful. ”

The Capitals camped in the Islanders’ tail for most of the final 40 minutes Tuesday night. Despite everything in the time zone, Washington only had a 29-26 advantage in shots.

“We stopped shooting the puck and started holding the puck,” said Kuznetsov, who scored Washington’s first goal. “We started to enjoy hockey again and that’s what gives us success. I think it’s really hard to defend when guys wear you down for 40 seconds, 50 seconds. Yeah, maybe we don’t shoot a lot of pucks but we give respect to our teammates and we share the puck and it might not be typical NHL hockey but that’s how we are supposed to play. And if we’re going to play like that, we’re going to have joy, we’re going to have fun, and we’re going to be successful.

According to Natural Stat Trick, Game 4 was actually the first time the Capitals won the Battle of Corsi in the series, as they controlled 64% of five-on-five shot attempts.

The Capitals didn’t hold practice Wednesday, but Nicklas Backstrom (concussion protocol) skated alongside additional players. Reirden said the center, who hasn’t played since absorbing a big blow by Anders Lee in the first game, will be a game decision Thursday.

Cal Clutterbuck left Game 4 after taking a low blow from Gudas. The Islanders also didn’t practice on Wednesday, but Trotz said he had spoken to Clutterbuck and believed the serious winger would be ready for Game 5.

Lightning head coach Jon Cooper pushed a punch after crossing the handshake line on Wednesday afternoon. What repressed emotion was he feeling as he waited for this moment?

“More than you know,” Cooper said after Tampa’s 5-4 overtime win over Columbus, who won their first-round series.

Last season, the Blue Jackets swept the Lightning after a record 62-game winning streak after the first round playoffs.

“We’ve had 422 days to think about it, but that matters,” Cooper said with a smile.

The Jackets weren’t sure of making the playoffs when the season hiatus in March. And even if they did, the Lightning appeared to be stuck in second place in the Atlantic Division and will likely face the Toronto Maple Leafs or Florida Panthers in the first round. But the new format in the wake of the pandemic created that chance for revenge and redemption.

“It’s funny how the hockey gods work,” Cooper said. “It’s easy to sit here and say you wanted them now, but it was good to have them and good to get this result. often you don’t get that second chance and that’s what you do with it. ”

Columbus is not the same team with Artemi Panarin and Matt Duchene among those who left through a free agency, but they still got Lightning to work. All four wins in Tampa came from a single goal, including a five-time marathon in overtime in Game 1 of the series.

“In years gone by, we weren’t as comfortable in these close matches,” said Tyler Johnson. “We did a good job focusing on that and the guys stayed together. ”

“There was a lot of learning last year and we had to grow as a team,” Cooper said. “We don’t necessarily need to change the way we play the game. I don’t know if it was as much about the structure as it was between the ears and all of us collectively, from the coaching staff to the grassroots, had to be more difficult. . “

Tampa’s mental toughness was certainly put to the test in Game 5. The Bolts took a 2-0 lead before watching the Jackets gain the upper hand and leap ahead with four unanswered counts.

“What we’ve learned is how to deal with these ups and downs,” the center said. Brayden Point who, just like in the first game, marked the winner of extra time. “We kept a level pin on the bench for the most part. In the second half we started to drift away from our game and they brought it to us. After that fourth goal, we settled in and started playing our system and our game again. ”

The Lightning mindset has changed this season, and so have the staff. The talented core was surrounded by gritty veterans including the winger Blake Coleman who scored Wednesday, his first goal since the February trade from New Jersey. Another fresh face, defender Kevin Shattenkirk, also scored a key goal to trigger the comeback in the third period.

Shattenkirk’s biggest contribution may have come in the dressing room in the second intermission after the Lightning were beaten 24-8 in the center stanza and trailed 3-2.

“We were pretty frustrated but, you know what, I have to give Shatty a lot of credit,” Johnson said. “We needed someone to step in and say something and he did it and kind of got the guys on board, kind of reset us, then he went out and got a big goal for U.S. too. ”

The Jackets had five power plays in the first 40 minutes, while the Lightning didn’t sniff on the man advantage.

“It was more of a good attitude for the future,” Shattenkirk said of his pep talk. “The way we approached the third period was that we were trying to get back to our game for the rest of the series. We were a little frustrated in the second and I think we were able to come out with a bit of calm and resilience in the third. ”

Even after the Jackets scored a goal, which was challenged unsuccessfully by Cooper, which led to another Columbus power play, the Lightning, playing without an injured captain. Steven Stamkos, stayed the course.

“Nobody really broke down on the bench,” Shattenkirk said. “Everyone was always convinced that we could do it, so it was just a matter of believing in our game plan because we had seen it work earlier in the series. “
“There’s a reason some of these guys were brought in,” Cooper said of Shattenkirk. “He’s invaluable when it comes to being inside the room.”

John Tortorella didn’t have much to say in his post-match zoom session, cutting things off after the second question.

“You know what, guys, I’m not going to get into the tough stuff or moral victories,” the Jackets coach said when asked what he learned about the squad in the bubble and all. throughout the process. “You guys be safe. “


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