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Less Ovechkin leads to more success for Capitals; Kings offense shouldn't be a surprise

Alex Ovechkin has three goals and six points in nine games this payoff season. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

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Alex Ovechkin has three goals and six points in nine games this payoff season. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

The NHL Playoff Recap gives you THN's take of what happened in each game of the night and what the consequences will be for the rest of the series.

We also provide our Three Stars of the night, which will be tabulated after each round. First Star is three points, Second Star is two points and Third Star is one point. Be sure to vote on who you think the first star was as well.

Of course there's the other side of the coin: The Black Hole is a piece of the lineup that just couldn't get it going on a given night and contributed to a difficult evening for the team.

 

CAPITALS/RANGERS, GAME 2: CAPITALS 3, RANGERS 2 (SERIES TIED 1-1)

THN’s Take: All right, so let’s see if we’ve got this straight here. The Washington Capitals game plan is to play Jay Beagle more than Alex Ovechkin. And they hope to win doing that, right?

Well, whatever works for the Capitals, who have become a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma in this spring’s playoffs. Finally getting the playoff goaltending they’ve needed and treating their superstar and $10 million man like a third liner has them even with the best team in the Eastern Conference.

Of course, the Capitals were supposed to be the best team in the Eastern Conference themselves, which is a whole other matter to dissect.

There’s little doubt that after a limp and frustrating Game 1 of their second round series, they’re running with the New York Rangers just fine. But whither Ovechkin, who played periods with ice time of 3:33, 5:41 and 4:22, but provided the Capitals with the margin of victory with a patented Ovechkin goal midway through the third period in a 3-2 win.

There were a number of observers, this corner included, who thought the Dale Hunter experiment would not end well for the Capitals. And until the Capitals squeaked into the playoffs, there was little reason to believe Hunter would fare much better in the post-season than Bruce Boudreau did before him. But where Boudreau would try to play tough love with Ovechkin, Hunter has actually gone out and done it. Same with Alex Semin, who received even less ice time than Ovechkin in Game 2. Perhaps the biggest difference between Hunter and Boudreau, aside from the emphasis on playing team defense, is that Hunter is not beholden to Ovechkin the way Boudreau was.

And Hunter has some currency here. He knows Capitals management has watched the team try to do it Ovechkin’s way in the playoffs for a couple of years and they’ve failed miserably. If giving Ovechkin less ice time and less responsibility for singlehandedly delivering victories leads the Capitals to more success, you’re not going to find too many people outside Ovechkin’s inner circle who would have a problem with that. We’ll see if that continues to work, particularly if the Capitals start struggling, but Hunter clearly knows what it takes to win playoff games.

Aside from the winning, this has not exactly been a great playoff for Ovechkin from a personal standpoint. His ice time has been cut drastically, he was called out by teammate Troy Brouwer prior to Game 2 and had as poor an outing in Game 1 as he’s had in any playoff game in his career.

But when the game was on the line and when the Capitals were one the power play, Ovechkin had the puck on his stick and made the most of his opportunity to be a difference maker. And let’s not forget that for all his offensive struggles, he’s still leading the Capitals in scoring in this year’s playoffs. And he did manage to unleash seven shots in the game, which was more than any player on either roster.

But with a team that is getting it done with defense, goaltending and team commitment that renders its stars far less important, the Capitals have never relied on Ovechkin less than they are right now.

And as crazy as that sounds, it might be what leads them to more playoff success than they’ve experienced since he entered the league.

Three Stars
1. Michael Del Zotto - His team lost, but Del Zotto was a force offensively, assisting on both Ranger goals. He also hit two crossbars in the game.

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2. Braden Holtby - He didn’t have to provide his customary spectacular play, but the rookie goal was very steady in outplaying all-world Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist. Holtby’s stop on a Chris Kreider breakaway directly led to the Capitals taking it back and scoring to make it 2-0.

3. Alex Ovechkin - It’s not as though Ovechkin has been playing badly in the playoffs, but he certainly made the most of his limited ice time, taking shots, playing physically and being engaged on the backcheck.

Who do you think was the first star?

The Black Hole: We can’t keep picking Marian Gaborik, so let’s go with Henrik Lundqvist. The Vezina finalist is having all sorts of trouble dealing with traffic in front of him and his inability to play the puck well led to him being badly out of position on Washington’s second goal.
- Ken Campbell

KINGS/BLUES GAME 2: KINGS 5, BLUES 2 (KINGS LEAD SERIES 2-0)

THN’s Take: Well, so much for any idea the Pacific Division had a fall from grace this season. The usual suspects may have dipped, but here we are with the Kings and Coyotes up 2-0 in their Western Conference semifinal series.

And they’ve controlled their series in much the same way. Good goaltending has been at the center, of course, but the sudden bursts of offense to subdue noteworthy defenses have been as surprising as they have decisive. The thing is, with the Kings, you could have at least seen something like this coming.

The lineup is too stocked with talent to be a 29th-ranked offense and if you look at the last chunk of their schedule you see they are. Since March, the Kings scored 68 goals in the final 23 regular season games for a goals per game average of 2.9. That’s top 10 offense right there. The only playoff team left with a better overall rating than that are the, ahem, Philadelphia Flyers.

So the beast is alive and very well and Los Angeles has the Blues losing themselves. Not having Alex Pietrangelo magnified the Blues’ problems, but this can’t all be passed off on missing one guy, no matter who he is.

Now the Kings are 5-0 on the road this post-season and the last team to do that won the Stanley Cup in 2004. This is a backwards year though, where you haven’t won anything until you win at home, so the Kings need to keep the starts fast. In theory, that shouldn’t be a problem for the more hardened of the two teams. The Blues have looked a little inexperienced through two games – clawing back from this one will require more character in the players than tactics in the coach.

Three Stars
1. Anze Kopitar – Having two centers is key to success in the NHL; having two star centers makes you a contender. Kopitar only took two shots, but scored on both of them in the first. His first goal was such a good and patient deke, he bounced it off the back of Brian Elliott’s leg and in. A fight with David Backes would have been an awful idea, though.

2. Dustin Brown – His forecheck led to Kopitar’s shortie and he added two other assists. He left his mark by laying six of his patented hits on the Blues and made sure David Backes wasn’t the only one making noise with his physical play.

3. Mike Richards – The other half of the center duo, Richards got the ball rolling with the first goal of the game on the very first shift of the game. This guy just knows how to win, plain and simple.

Who do you think was the first star?

The Black Hole: Someone needed to step up on St. Louis’ blueline in the absence of Pietrangelo – no one did. Roman Polak looked especially bad in the early going. It didn’t look like he was comfortable with his positioning and was second-guessing himself. They call him the wanderer. Yeah, the wanderer. He roamed around, around, around.
- Rory Boylen

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