NEW YORK -- If Alex Ovechkin plays the remainder of the Capitals’ second-round playoff series against the Rangers the way he played in Game 2, it might take an act of God to prevent him from making his first trip to the Eastern Conference Finals.
Yes, the Capitals lost Saturday’s game in Madison Square Garden by a 3-2 score. But there was little debate over who left more of himself on the ice in the defeat.
“He’s a big-time player and sometimes it’s not what you get, it’s what you leave,” Capitals coach Barry Trotz said of his 29-year-old captain. “He’s leaving an impression on them physically and also with his skill level. He’s a force, there’s no question.”
Ovechkin delivered a game-high nine hits in Game 2, made an artful backhand pass to Evgeny Kuznetsov for a prime scoring chance, and threw 11 shots in the direction of Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist.
But it was his beastly goal with 9:31 gone in the final period that had everyone in the building, including all 39 players, shaking their heads in amazement.
Ovechkin took a pass from Joel Ward on his backhand and accelerated through the Rangers’ top defensive pairing of Ryan McDonagh and Dan Girardi. Within the blink of an eye, as he was falling to his knees, Ovechkin snapped a bullet just inside the far post and under the crossbar for one of the most impressive goals of his career.
“He’s one of the best players in the game, there’s no question,” Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist said. “There’s not a lot of players that can do what he does out there and it’s a challenge for us every game to try to stop him. But to be able to shoot it that hard on your knees, he definitely surprised me a little bit there.
“But you have to be ready for anything, especially that line. They’re playing really well, so you just have to be on your toes out there.”
“Nothing really surprises me anymore with him,” Capitals right wing Jason Chimera said. “Even when he’s on his [bottom] he’s got a harder shot than me.”
Rangers center Derrick Brassard scored the game-winning goal in Game 2 but if the Rangers hope to return to the conference finals for the second straight year, Brassard said they’ll need to do a better job against the Caps’ captain.
“We learned we can’t fall asleep on Number 8,” Brassard said.
After the loss, Trotz, who boldly compared Ovechkin to Mark Messier following Game 1, was asked if he Russian superstar is currently the best player in the world.
“On my team he is,” Trotz answered. “There are different degrees and different positions, but if you look at the left wingers in the league, I don’t know if you can come up with too many better than him -- if any.”
MORE CAPITALS: Ovechkin beats Lundqvist with highlight reel goal