WASHINGTON — Alex Ovechkin’s franchise-record 31st career playoff goal got the Capitals started before less-heralded teammates Marcus Johansson and Jason Chimera scored 46 seconds apart, and Washington beat the New York Rangers 3-1 Thursday night in Game 1 of their first-round series.
Ovechkin, a two-time MVP who led the NHL with 32 goals this season, crashed the net to score on a power play about seven minutes into the second period to tie the game for the Capitals, the third-seeded team in the Eastern Conference.
Carl Hagelin had put sixth-seeded New York ahead 1-0 in the first period — the only puck that made it past Braden Holtby, who finished with 35 saves.
Game 2 of the best-of-seven series is Saturday in Washington.
It’s the third consecutive season these two teams are facing each other in the playoffs and the fourth time in five years. The Rangers eliminated the Capitals in seven games in the second round last season.
But Washington is playing a livelier brand of hockey under first-time NHL head coach Adam Oates, a Hockey Hall of Fame forward who shifted Ovechkin from left wing to right wing and helped design the Capitals’ league-best power play.
The Rangers drew the fewest penalties of any team this season, but they already accumulated four by early in the second period, and Ovechkin capitalized on No. 4.
Only 33 seconds after New York’s Arron Asham was whistled for an illegal check to the head, Mike Green, who led NHL defensemen with 12 goals this season, wound up and sent the puck toward the net. Technically, it wasn’t a shot by virtue of missing everything, but the ricochet off the boards went right to Ovechkin, who flipped it high past Henrik Lundqvist.
That broke Ovechkin’s tie with Peter Bondra for most postseason goals by a Washington player. Ovechkin slammed his shoulder into the glass to celebrate, and chants of “M-V-P!” cascaded from the red-clad fans in the stands.
Ovechkin put his name in that conversation by scoring 22 times in the last 21 games to collect his third Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophy — first since 2009 — and propel Washington to the Southeast Division title.
That goal energized the Capitals. So did wiping away a 5-on-3 chance the Rangers had for nearly a minute. Shortly after that New York power play ended, Capitals rookie defenseman Steve Oleksy — who got hit in the face by a puck later in the second period — sent a pass about 80 feet down the middle of the ice and between Rangers defensemen Dan Girardi and Ryan McDonagh to set up Johansson. The Swede collected the puck at the blue line and beat Lundqvist at the 14:21 mark to make it 2-1.
It was Chimera’s turn less than a minute later, when he took a pass from Mathieu Perreault, spun around near the boards and put the hosts ahead 3-1. That led to mocking choruses of “Luuuundqvist” from spectators.
Both teams came out a bit off their best, perhaps because neither had played a game since last Saturday, a four-day layoff that was a particularly difficult adjustment after a lockout-compressed, no-rest regular season.
Only 36 seconds in, the Rangers were called for too many men on the ice. The Capitals did not convert, and even were a bit sloppy, with Mike Ribeiro sending one pass behind him and beyond the blue line.
The Capitals took the game’s first nine shots; the Rangers did not force Holtby to do much of anything until he knocked away Derek Stepan’s drive about eight minutes after the opening faceoff. Another six minutes went by before the Rangers took their second shot of the game.
The Capitals controlled the run of play early, yet it was the Rangers who scored first.
Hagelin went behind the goal to fend off defenseman John Carlson for a loose puck along the boards, then moved toward the front and, unimpeded, got off a shot that caromed in off the left skate of Washington’s John Erskine at the 16:44 mark of the opening period.
With less than a minute left in the period, Ovechkin broke in 1-on-1 against Lundqvist, but the Russian’s shot clanked off the post. The play did lead to a delayed penalty for Washington, but New York shut down the power play yet again, making the hosts 0 for 3.
The fourth time was the charm, though, thanks to Ovechkin.
Notes: The Rangers were 13-0-1 when leading after the first period during the regular season. … Capitals RW Joel Ward returned to action after missing the last nine regular-season games with a bruised left knee. … The Rangers were without injured LW Ryane Clowe, C Brian Boyle and D Marc Staal.
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