WASHINGTON -- Alex Ovechkin was bumped around, boxed in and, well, pretty much Broad Street Bullied for most of his NHL playoff debut.
And then, with the outcome hanging in the balance, Alex the Great emerged.
Held without a single shot until late, the league's leading scorer stole the puck and netted the tiebreaking goal with 41/2 minutes remaining, giving the Washington Capitals a 5-4 victory over the Philadelphia Flyers during Game 1 of their Eastern Conference quarter-final last night.
"They held him in check pretty good," Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau said, "but he's one of those guys that needs one chance."
That's pretty much all Ovechkin got against the Flyers, who led 4-2 heading into the final period, thanks to two goals apiece by Daniel Briere and Vaclav Prospal. But Ovechkin got going by helping set up the first of two goals by defenceman Mike Green that lifted Washington into a tie.
And then Ovechkin, the 22-year-old Russian who set an NHL record for goals by a left winger this season with 65, put the finishing touch on the Capitals' first playoff game since 2003. He took the puck away from defenceman Lasse Kukkonen and slid it past goalie Martin Biron, drawing "M-V-P!" chants from the red-clad fans.
"A pretty veteran move," said Caps' Sergei Fedorov, a 38-year-old who would know, having earned 1994 league MVP honours and three Stanley Cups with Detroit.
Looking at the way his young teammate handled himself all night, Fedorov lavished more praise on Ovechkin.
"It's not easy: So much talk about everything and such a great season," Fedorov said. "Playoffs is a little different. I'm actually surprised -- really amazed -- that he kept himself so together, so cool in the final moments of the game."
Ovechkin, meanwhile, admitted he had the jitters.
"It was different," he said between gasps of air.
"We did a good job of containing him," Philadelphia's Scottie Upshall said, "for the first 45 minutes."
Not long enough, clearly.
Donald Brashear and Dave Steckel collected the first two goals for Washington, which led 2-1 midway through the second before the Flyers scored three times in less than four minutes to go up 4-2.
Game 2 is tomorrow at Washington, where the Caps have won seven in a row.