WASHINGTON (AP) — As Alex Ovechkin lay face down on the ice, the Washington Capitals’ Stanley Cup hopes stopped.
Coach Barry Trotz was concerned as Ovechkin clutched at his left knee and put no weight on his left leg after the borderline hip check from Nazem Kadri before limping down the tunnel late in the first period. But Ovechkin returned to start the second and could laugh it off after the Capitals beat the Toronto Maple Leafs 2-1 in Game 5 Friday night to take a 3-2 series lead.
Ovechkin said he was “all good” and wasn’t worried, and the roar of the sellout crowd when he stepped back onto the ice was the sweetest sound for the Capitals until the goal horn that followed Justin Williams’ overtime winner.
“It doesn’t hurt,” said Ovechkin, who has three goals in the series. “Nothing. I just take time to watch the power play.”
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Ovechkin quipped that he was watching on TV in the locker room when T.J. Oshie scored on the power play that came from Kadri’s tripping penalty for upending the Russian star. There was considerable debate over whether the hit deserved that two-minute minor, more or less.
“Trotzy probably thought there should have been a major, and I thought it should have been no penalty,” Toronto coach Mike Babcock said.
For his part, Kadri said he didn’t intend to injure Ovechkin and was glad he returned.
“I just kind of tried to get a piece of him,” Kadri said. “He tried to get out of the way. It’s not like I stuck my knee out or got my arms high or anything like that. It happened pretty quick. From what I saw, I thought it was OK.”
Ovechkin crushed Maple Leafs defenseman Jake Gardiner on his first shift back, and Kadri said the Capitals’ captain “was running around a little bit when he came back, so he must have been fine.” Ovechkin took some jabs at Kadri the rest of the night but said he didn’t see the replay to judge whether the hit was dirty.
Clean or night, the sight of Ovechkin down and in pain made his teammates nervous. Oshie said he didn’t know Ovechkin was OK until players went into the locker room at intermission.
“He’s the face of this franchise,” Trotz said. “You saw him come back and how tough he is.”
Given that Ovechkin plays through just about everything, Williams wasn’t surprised about the quick return.
“Ovi’s a horse,” Williams said. “It takes a lot to hurt that guy, especially this time of year. He came back hard, fans gave him a great ovation and he played another hard game for us again.”
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