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]