Coming off a horrific collapse on Tuesday in which the Capitals coughed up a 4-1 lead to the Florida Panthers, there seemed to be some carryover at the start of Thursday's game against the Chicago Blackhawks. Once again, it was Alex Ovechkin to the rescue for Washington, but not with a big goal or assist, this time it was a big hit that sparked the team.
The Caps' first-period effort on Thursday left a lot to be desired. Against a Blackhawks team with just seven wins in its first 21 games, Washington put together a lackluster effort with multiple defensive breakdowns and few positives to speak of. The team was fortunate the score was only 1-0 after 20.
Things changed quickly in the second period.
Just 21 seconds in, Ovechkin delivered a thunderous hit to Chicago defenseman Connor Murphy that proved to be the major turning point in the game.
The timing of the hit was no coincidence as upping the physicality of their play was an emphasis discussed in the locker room between periods. Ovechkin led by example.
“You don’t want to see anyone get hurt but in the same sense you got to establish a physical game," Laviolette said.
"Everyone was pumped up," Martin Fehervary said. "Ovi know what to do and he's really hard on those guys when he wants. He play all the time physical. As a team, we just saw it and it pumped us up."
The hit was high, but clean. Ovechkin led with his shoulder and caught Murphy cleanly, approaching at an angle in which Murphy could see him coming. Unfortunately, the hit sent Murphy tumbling and his face whipped into the boards as he spun around. He was slow to get up and did not return to the game.
The purpose of the hit was not to injure, obviously, but to spark the team and it did just that. On the very next shift, Nic Dowd scored to tie the game at 1.
"Ovi has a big hit, we score a goal, we’re into it, crowd’s into it," Dowd said.
It was a different game after that.
After an opening period with few positives to build on, the Caps would score three goals in the final 40 minutes to earn a point. Though Washington ultimately lost in a shootout, there is no question the point the team received came as a result of the spark Ovechkin delivered with his second-period hit.
"[Ovechkin] does so much good for our team," Garnet Hathaway said. "That’s one of them. We talked about it, we needed to get more physical, we needed to be a little bit more engaged. ‘O’ went out and he was a leader for us. That was a huge hit, [I] hope he’s OK, but it was one that got our bench going, brought us into the game, grabbed you by the throat and dragged you in."