The Washington Capitals took a 1-0 second round series lead over the New York Rangers Thursday after Joel Ward scored the winning goal with just one second left in the third period. Ward’s buzzer-beater, gave the Capitals a 2-1 win. Alex Ovechkin scored the first goal and his sly back pass to Ward from behind the Rangers’ goal made the second. After the game, Capitals’ coach Barry Trotz gave the hockey world some insight as to how he got a spectacular season out of his talisman captain Ovechkin.
“When I took over the job with Ovi, I met him in Vegas for the NHL Awards and we sat down and spent probably four or five hours. I had about 45 to 50 questions … and I asked him to do certain things,” Trotz told reporters at his postgame news conference.
“I wanted him [Ovechkin] to be more active, in terms of I thought he had too much glide in his game,” continued Trotz. “When I was in the other conference [as Nashville’s coach], we talked about how he wasn’t skating and how easy he is to cover, and I said [to Ovechkin] I just want to have a plan to get you the puck. So you do what you do when you have it and do what I want you to do when you don’t have it.”
VIDEO: Joel Ward’s immaculate buzzer-beater in Game 1
The preseason discussion has paid dividends now that Ovechkin has chalked up one his best seasons. The ‘Great 8’ is a finalist (again) for the NHL MVP award, and he won his fifth ‘Rocket’ Richard trophy as the league’s highest scorer with 53 goals. Furthermore, Ovechkin turned his plus/minus rating around from a minus-35 last season to a plus-10 this term – an upward swing that I accredit Trotz with. However, the coach is always too humble to take any praise for his captain’s improvement.
“He’s a rare talent in this league,” stated Trotz. “He’s very similar to Mark Messier – those rare talents that can play a very heavy game … Ovi’s been terrific as an all-in player for us this year. It doesn’t start with me; it starts with the player. The player has to buy in. I have to give Ovi all the credit.”
Ovechkin’s tenacity and work ethic has improved this season as evidenced by the never-give-up attitude he displayed on Ward’s winning goal Thursday. With the Rangers unwisely attempting to run down the clock in the corner of their zone with just under 10 seconds to go, a hit by Nicklas Backstrom on Dan Boyle forced the puck out and Ovechkin picked it up and skated towards the back of Henrik Lundqvist’s goal looking like he’d try a wraparound. He didn’t, and instead fed the puck backwards to a grateful Ward who slotted home under Lundqvist’s pad to set off wild celebrations on the ice.
Alain Vigneault Unhappy
Rangers coach Alain Vigneault was less than celebratory as he immediately barked at the officials, claiming that Backstrom’s hit on Boyle was charging. It wasn’t charging – and the officials did an excellent job of letting each team play a physical but not dangerous game.
So, with Ward playing his usual excellent way postseason, Ovechkin leading the team and living up to expectations, an on-fire goalie in Braden Holtby, and a well-organized and hard-hitting defense (all things the Caps did not have last season), Washington heads back to Madison Square Garden on Saturday afternoon for Game 2. Things turned ugly at the final horn Thursday when an impromptu scuffle broke out, and we should expect similar scrums and flying fists on Saturday.