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BOSTON (CBS) – Pundits from Maine to Capitol Hill were proclaiming it everywhere they were talking about the Bruins-Washington Eastern Conference quarterfinal series this week.
For the Bruins to beat the Capitals, they were going to have to “shut down” Alexander Ovechkin.
No one “shuts down” Ovechkin.
The Bruins, to a man, continually pointed out in the days leading up to Thursday’s Game 1 that there was more than one player on Washington’s roster. And to me, that said it all. Maybe Ovechkin gets five, six shots and scores a goal or two, but the Bruins could stifle the other lines and the Caps’ potent offensive defensemen. And then if they could grind out enough goals, they’d prevail.
Zdeno Chara and Dennis Seidenberg were draped on Ovechkin like a fishing net all night, and the line of Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and Tyler Seguin was there to hold down the ends of that net while Chara and Seidenberg pounded on the “Great Eight” with all of their strength and weight.
Ovechkin matched the physicality by recording seven hits, while Chara and Seidenberg combined for 10. But Ovechkin, who averaged nearly four shots on net per night during the regular season, was limited to just one shot on goal. That one shot was a golden opportunity – one that Ovechkin said he “should score” on. Tim Thomas made sure that didn’t happen. The players in front of him took care of the rest.
“I think it has to do with all five guys on the ice – putting back pressure on him when he gets the puck on his side and just trying to disturb him as soon as possible. And trying to not give him speed or time to make plays or get a shot off,” Seidenberg said. “Tonight we did a good job and we have to keep that up.”
Although Bergeron’s line played well at the defensive end, there might’ve been an Ovechkin eruption without Seidenberg and Chara keeping the speedster close at all time. Chara at one point even stepped up at the Washington blue line – a rare sight from a Boston defender – to prevent Ovechkin from getting his feet moving. Seidenberg took the worst of one center-ice hit he threw at Ovechkin, but as the defenseman said, that’s the only way to make sure Ovechkin “can’t do anything.”
There’s no way the Bruins will be able to keep Ovechkin under lock and chain for the entirety of a best-of-seven series. He’s too great not to get his. That Ovechkin was held down had to resonate with his teammates, who are probably wondering how they’re ever going to score if their top sniper can’t solve the Bruins.
The notion of “shutting down Ovechkin” once seemed like a fairy tale. In Game 1, it was a fable come to life. Some variation of that story three more times should be enough for the Bruins to live happily ever after in the second round.