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Ovechkin braces himself for another war on ice

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Ovechkin braces himself for another war on ice

As he skated through the post-game handshake line following the Capitals’ brutally physical seven-game victory over the New York Islanders, Alex Ovechkin heard words of encouragement from Islanders defenseman Johnny Boychuk:

“Good luck,” Boychuk told a mic’d up Ovechkin. “I hope you achieve your goal.”

Ovechkin is hoping to hear similar words after going toe-to-toe with the New York Rangers’ top defensive pair of Dan Girardi and Ryan McDonagh, who have set out to make his life miserable for the next two weeks.

“Boychuk and [Nick] Leddy played against our line and it was a huge battle against them,” Ovechkin said before boarding a team flight for New York, where the Capitals and Rangers will begin their second-round series Thursday night at Madison Square Garden. “It’s the same with Girardi and McDonagh.

“We respect each other a lot. I think every player respects each other, especially in the playoffs when you have that kind of war.”

Girardi and McDonagh had similar success against Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin in Round 1 against the Pittsburgh Penguins, limiting Crosby to two goals and Malkin to none in a five-game elimination.

Two years ago, Girardi and McDonagh held Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom to a combined total of two goals and three assists and a minus-4 rating as the Rangers rallied from a 3-2 series deficit to eliminate the Caps in seven games. Ovechkin played right wing in that series and went head-to-head with McDonagh, who plays left defense.

As a left winger this time around, Ovechkin’s one-on-one matchups will come against Girardi, a 6-foot-1, 208-pounder who relies on his positioning and lower-body strength in front of the net.

“I think you have to be up in his face no matter what side he’s on,” Girardi told the New York Daily News.

McDonagh, a 6-foot-1, 213-pounder, agrees.

“He likes to make that move where he carries it in and makes a move to his forehand,” McDonagh said. “If anything, you want try and support Dan in the aspect of maybe trying to take that ice away from him. If there’s a two-on-two situation or a one-on-two situation, he likes to get ahead of his guy sometimes.

“So if I can recognize that and it’s kind of them two on an island, hopefully I can come over and kind of cut that ice out for him so maybe he’s forced to go to his backhand or shoot it before he makes that move.”

During the regular season Ovechkin scored five of his league-best 53 goals against the Rangers. He added two goals and three assists against the Islanders in Round 1 while delivering 31 hits for a top line that combined for six goals and nine assists. [Backstrom had three goals and three assists, while Joel Ward had one goal and three assists].

“Me and Backy always play against Girardi and McDonagh,” Ovechkin said. “We’re familiar with what they’re going to do. We’ll watch more video and remember how they play and what they’re going to do. But it doesn’t matter to us, we’re just gong to do our thing.”

And when this series ends, Ovechkin hopes to hear the same words of encouragement from an equally worn-out opponent.

“After the series you have to shake hands and say a couple good words,” he said. “It’s always been like that and it’s going to be like that.”

[MORE CAPITALS: Projected lineups for Caps and Rangers series opener]

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Capitals Faceoff Podcast: A trip to the Stanley Cup Final is on the line

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USA TODAY Sports

Capitals Faceoff Podcast: A trip to the Stanley Cup Final is on the line

The Eastern Conference Final is going the distance!

After losing three straight to the Tampa Bay Lightning, the Capitals won Game 6 to force a Game 7 in Tampa Bay. Can the Caps beat the Lightning one more time and advance to the Stanley Cup Final?

JJ Regan, Tarik El-Bashir and special guest cameraman Mike D break it all down.

 

PLEASE NOTE: Due to schedule and time constraints, this podcast was recorded by phone and the audio quality is not up to our usual standards.

Check out their latest episode in the player below or listen on the Capitals Faceoff Podcast page.

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Caps push Lightning around in Game 6 with physical game plan

Caps push Lightning around in Game 6 with physical game plan

As the NHL continues to focus more on speed and skill, the Capitals took a very old-school approach to Game 6 against the Tampa Bay Lightning. From the moment the puck dropped until the clock hit zero, it was clear Washington came into Monday with a very physical game plan.

"It made a big difference," T.J. Oshie said. "I think in these games, everyone’s bringing energy and you kind of want to control that and direct it towards some positive play, some momentum building for your team, and tonight I think we handled that and did that pretty well."

"We just wanted to throw everything we had at them," Stephenson said. "It was a do or die game and we don't want our season to end."

It worked.

The scoresheet officially credited the Caps with 39 hits for the game. The Lightning had only 19. The physical play seemed to wear down Tampa Bay as the game went on.

After an even first period, Washington took a 1-0 lead in the second. Then, very fittingly, a physical fourth line extended that lead to 2-0 in the third to finish the Lightning off.

"All of a sudden now we turn a puck over, you’re back in your end, they’re feeling it, they’re being physical, crowd’s behind them and we’re spending way too much time in our D zone," Tampa Bay head coach Jon Cooper said. "That’s what hurt us."

What made it so effective was the fact that the entire team bought into it. Alex Ovechkin was certainly the most noticeable player as he threw himself around like a wrecking ball against everyone wearing a white jersey. But it was not just his line. Tom Wilson and Brooks Orpik each led the team with six hits, Devante Smith-Pelly recorded five of his own while Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom both had four.

The Lightning faced a constant barrage from the Caps from every line and defensive pair. There was no respite.

The hits also gave the fans plenty to cheer for.

The Caps were playing an elimination game at home and Tampa Bay goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy was standing on his head. Even with the score locked at 0-0 through the first period, the crowd was still very much into the game. There was no apprehension, there was no quiet tension. There was just a loud crowd cheering on its team.

"[The fans] were loud right from the start, which I think we fed off of and wanted to give them something back," Brooks Orpik said. "We didn't get a goal early. I think some of the physical play kind of helped carry that. They were great for us."

Now in the third round of the playoffs after six intense games between the Caps and Lightning, the hope is that Game 6's physical play will continue to take its toll on Tampa Bay heading into Game 7.

"We need to do that every game," Nicklas Backstrom said. "That's our forecheck. Hopefully, we can keep it going here in Game 7."

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