NEW YORK – While Capitals fans will gleefully remember Ovechkin’s incredible pass and Joel Ward’s dramatic goal with 1.4 seconds remaining in Thursday night’s
wild 2-1 win in Madison Square Garden, the New York Rangers and their fans will remember the questionable hit that led to the goal.
With 5 seconds separating the two teams from sudden-death overtime, Rangers defenseman Dan Boyle turned his back on Capitals center Nicklas Backstrom and appeared to be checked in the head by Backstrom’s right arm.
“I saw [Boyle] get hit and go down,” Rangers defenseman Ryan McDonagh said, “and I kind of hesitated, just to see. I knew he was down and I thought [the referees] were going to blow it [dead].”
Instead, Alex Ovechkin picked up the loose puck, drew McDonagh and Derek Stepan toward him behind the net, and fed a brilliant pass to Ward, who was all alone in the slot.
“That was the loudest I screamed in a while,” Ward said. “Probably the loudest I’ve screamed at [Ovechkin]. I didn’t know how much time was left to be honest. I knew I was in front and I was just screaming. He made an unbelievable pass across his body. I just took a hard whack at it and sure enough it beat the clock.”
Lundqvist said that when he saw Ovechkin swing around the net, he thought the puck would come out to his right, not to his left, and when he tried to recover he left his pads open for Ward to stuff it between them.
“When it came out I was too late,” Lundqvist said. “It was a tough one.”
As the Capitals celebrated in front of Lundqvist, Boyle dropped to one knee. He slowly skated off the ice and headed down the tunnel with Rangers trainer Jim Ramsay.
Rangers coach Alain Vigneault was screaming at the officials as the final horn sounded but when asked about the no-call on Backstrom after the game, he said, “I’m not going to comment on referees. Don’t ask me about it.”
Backstrom made no apologies when asked specifically about the hit on Boyle that led to the game-winning goal.
“I didn’t see the puck but I knew there was five seconds left and everything can happen,” Backstrom said. “I mean, it’s something we’ve been taught from when we were kids, to play until the whistle and that’s what we did.
“To be honest with you, I haven’t seen [the hit], so I can’t really say anything about it. But it looked like he was standing by the wall there. Hits like that happen every game, so …”
It will be interesting to see if Boyle, 38, is well enough to return for Game 2 and if the NHL will review the play. Vigneault did not provide an update on the veteran defenseman after the game. The Rangers already are expected to be without top-line right wing Mats Zuccarello for the remainder of the series after he was struck in the head by a McDonagh slapshot against the Penguins.
If Boyle cannot play in Game 2 on Saturday afternoon, Matt Hunwick would likely take his place. Hunwick played in place of Kevin Klein in Round 1.
As for Capitals coach Barry Trotz, he said his team can play much better than it did in the series opener and will need to if the Caps home to take a commanding 2-0 lead in the series.
“I don’t think we played very good today,” said Trotz, who will give his players the day off on Friday. “I know that we’ve got another level in our game. We really had to push. I thought they were probably a little fresher than us.”
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