For about two minutes near the end of the first period, the Verizon Center crowd watched helplessly as Alex Ovechkin sprawled in pain on the ice, grasping at his left knee. Ovechkin, unable to put weight on his leg after a vicious hit by Toronto’s Nazem Kadri, had to be helped off.
But by the start of the second period, Ovechkin was back out there.
Ovechkin might be sore Sunday, but he and the Capitals can breathe easier as they wrested control of the best-of-seven series back from the upstart Maple Leafs Friday with a 2-1 win.
With a 3-2 lead in the series, Washington is now one game away from advancing to the second round.
The Capitals did it in familiar fashion — winning their second overtime game of the series. Four of the five games so far have gone into overtime.
Justin Williams delivered the winning goal. After scoring two goals in Game 1, Williams swung Game 5 when he converted off a pass in the slot from Evgeny Kuznetsov just 1:04 into the extra period.
“These are big moments,” Williams said. “To win a championship, you need to relish these moments and you need to come up big in these moments. We’ve done that in two of the four ones, four overtime games and we’re gonna need to come up really big in Game 6.”
Williams produced in the type of moment his teammates said he lives for. With the Los Angeles Kings, Williams earned the nicknamed ”Mr. Game 7” and Friday’s overtime score marked his seventh career postseason game-winner.
“There’s a level of competitiveness that I think some people are able to bring themselves to — and there are some guys that can just bring it higher. He’s one of those guys,” forward T.J. Oshie said. “He’s one of those guys that when everyone gets tense and everyone grabs their sticks a little tight, he gets more focused and finds ways to pull off the big play.”
Added Kuznetsov: “Even after a couple bad shifts, we’ll always talk and he always hold the puck and he’s always trying to make the play.”
Before Williams’ heroics, the Caps’ only score had come in the first period on a body-sacrificing shot from Ovechkin, who was hammered by Kadri after capitalizing on a power play and scoring with 1:45 left. Kadri was called for a tripping penalty after delivering a lower body hit to Ovechkin’s knee.
But as they have all series, Toronto continued to push back. Capitals coach Barry Trotz said the hit on Ovechkin gave Toronto energy. The Maple Leafs certainly entered the second more aggressive.
Six minutes into the period, Auston Matthews tied the game with a rebound goal. The Maple Leafs, in general, dominated the period in which they outshot Washington, 8-4.
Friday wasn’t pretty for the Capitals as they committed six penalties, three in the second period, but each time, Washington was able to clear the puck.
“I thought our penalty kill got us right back on the rails,” Trotz said. “They had a couple of big kills, and obviously the early one in the third period was real big to start the period there.
“I thought that gave us a real push in the third period. We had them, I thought, on their heels. They had a couple of chances, but we had a lot more.”
The Capitals will look to close out Sunday in Toronto at 7 p.m.
Heading into Game 6, Ovechkin said he’s not worried about his leg. Ovechkin said all he needed “was a little break.”
“Ovi’s a horse,” Williams said. “It takes a lot to hurt that guy. Especially this time of year.”
As for his winning goal, Williams tried to downplay it despite the series shifting back in Washington’s favor.
“I haven’t scored that many big goals,” Williams said. “I was in the right place at the right time tonight.”