Nearing the halfway point of Saturday afternoon's Game 5 against the Rangers, the Capitals were holding a sizeable edge in shots and play, yet they still only held a 1-0 lead to show for their efforts and were looking for a spark to help put away pesky New York.
They got that spark from their superstar, as Alexander Ovechkin took a pass from defenseman Scott Hannan, and the captain turned on his jets up ice. Ovechkin was able to outrace Ranger blueliner Marc Staal and beat his pokecheck attempt, and then the captain broke into the middle of the ice and lifted the puck past New York goaltender Henrik Lundqvist with a backhand shot as the Verizon Center crowd erupted.
The goal proved to be the game-winner — Ovechkin's first one in the playoffs since Game 2 of Washington's second-round loss to Pittsburgh in 2009 — and helped seal the team's first playoff series win in two years.
Afterwards, a relatively subdued Ovechkin talked about his tally.
"We blocked the shot, I just turned and [Laich] and [Hannan] gave me a pass," the captain said. "It was kind of a rush play ... it was important to score second goal and [build] the lead."
Down the hallway in the quiet visitor's locker room, Staal simply said he didn't have the energy to keep up with Ovechkin's speed down the wing.
"The pass made the slot, my first read was his speed and watching him a little bit," Staal said. "I got to watch him first and started retreating. I didn't have enough legs to get back."
"I think I have pretty good speed down there," Ovechkin said. "[Hannan] gave me a pretty good pass and I just do what I have to do to score goals. It's my job."
"We knew [Dan] Girardi and Staal logged a lot of ice time," he said later. "When I score goal, Staal was a bit tired, and I had a chance to make some moves."
After the game, Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau credited his captain for helping to deliver the series clincher.
"I thought today was his best game, easily," Boudreau said. "The other games he's had flashes of brillance, and at times been not so visible. Today, I thought he was very visible on the ice doing the right things and his goal was spectacular."
As for the captain himself, he and his club ventured into the unknown territory of finishing a best-of-seven series early.
"It's pretty cool to have time to rest," he said. "It's not over yet. One step."
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