Ovechkin won't win clash of wills against Hunter

As long as the Capitals keep winning in these playoffs, you can expect Alex Ovechkin to see more of...

As long as the Capitals keep winning in these playoffs, you can expect Alex Ovechkin to see more of the bench. (MOLLY RILEY/Reuters file photo)

MIKE ZEISBERGER, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 4:32 AM ET

NEW YORK - Five things we have learned through the first two games of the Washington Capitals-New York Rangers Eastern Conference semifinal, which is deadlocked at 1-1 heading into Game 3 Wednesday night at the Verizon Center in the U.S. capital.

1. Alex Ovechkin is not going to win any clash of wills with Caps coach Dale Hunter.

Ovechkin's 13:36 of ice time in Game 2 has become THE issue of contention in this series, especially since the likes of Jay Beagle received six minutes and 10 shifts more than the Great Eight.

When asked about how little he had played, Ovechkin, who scored the winning goal in the third period of the Caps 3-2 victory, twice used the term "suck it up" when referring to the good of the team.

Six forwards, including Beagle, played more than Ovechkin, which had some critics second-guessing Hunter.

Really, people, as long as the Caps are winning, do you really think Dale Hunter cares?

Not in the least.

It's obvious that Hunter views Ovechkin as a defensive liability. So, as long as the Caps have the lead, don't expect to see him get a lot of ice time.

Should Washington fall behind, well, that's a different story. In that case, Hunter will double-shift his top goal scorer whenever possible to generate offence.

2. Most Capitals are buying what Hunter is selling.

A year ago the Caps were swept in the second round by the Tampa Bay Lightning. Twelve months later, with Hunter at the helm, they've already won once in the second round.

And as long as they keep posting W's, the players will keep drinking Hunter's Kool-Aid.

"It's hard to argue when we're winning hockey games," forward Jason Chimera said. "A lot of guys, their ice time has gone down, but we're winning hockey games. You can't argue with that."

Added veteran forward Mike Knuble: "Anybody who's following our team, you see he's coaching the situations."

3. Braden Holtby continues to prove to doubters that he is The Real Deal.

We've seen one-round wonders before -- former Habs Cinderella story Steve Penney comes to mind -- so anointing the Capitals rookie as the "next great thing" after his performance in upsetting the defending Stanley Cup-champion Boston Bruins in the opening round might be, well, a bit premature.

But there is no doubt he continues to impress.

After a wobbly effort in the Caps' 3-1 loss in Game 1, Holtby was outstanding in Game 2, stopping both Chris Kreider and Michael Rupp on full or partial breakaways.

More important to Hunter is the fact that Holtby has not lost back-to-back outings in his past 25 games. If he extends that streak, the Caps will have a legitimate shot against the No. 1 seed in the east.

4. Chris Kreider has brought some spark to a Rangers offence that could use one.

"Moribund" is probably the best way to describe New York's pop-gun attack through the first two games. Sure, they won Game 1, but they did it with just 14 shots on goal.

As a result, Kreider, the big, smooth-skating rookie who was celebrating an NCAA hockey championship just three weeks ago with Boston College, had been bumped up to the Rangers top line by Game 2. Whether he stays there for Game 3 remains to be seen, but he has brought an infusion of energy to a New York lineup that badly needs it.

Kreider's wheels were on display in Game 2, when he sped to a breakaway before being stopped by Holtby. On a team full of fierce forecheckers, the addition of Kreider has certainly upped the skill level of the Rangers forward ranks.

5. Marian Gaborik must be a difference maker.

The way New Yorkers have embraced Brian Boyle now that he's back in the lineup, you would think he's Mark Messier. And that's fine. But with these games all threatening to be close, it's time for the highly-skilled Gaborik to take matters into his own hands.

Gaborik arguably has as much raw talent as any forward in the league, but can be invisible at times during the tight checking of the NHL playoffs. With a cap hit of $7.5 million, he should be one of the Rangers best players each and every night.

Thus far in this series, he has been anything but that.

CAPITALS FORWARDS ICE TIME

A look at the ice time of Washington Capitals forwards in Game 2 of their Eastern Conference semifinal against the New York Rangers on Monday, a 3-2 Caps win.

1. Jay Beagle, 19:58

2. Troy Brouwer, 18:48

3. Brooks Laich, 17:46

4. Marcus Johansson, 16:55

5. Nicklas Backstrom, 16:18

6. Matt Hendricks, 15:26

7. Alex Ovechkin, 13:36

8. Jason Chimera, 13:05

9. Alex Semin, 12:27

10. Joel Ward, 12:06

11. Mike Knuble, 9:49

12. Keith Aucoin, 9:29

mike.zeisberger@sunmedia.ca

twitter.com/zeisberger


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