The main game-day event in the NHL was, without a doubt, the return to the ice of the best player in the league for the past two years, Alex Ovechkin. Or, more precisely, the meticulous conspiracy which accompanied this return. During the morning practice skate Alexander the Great estimated his chances at returning as "fifty-fifty". And with his acting abilities, the head coach of the Capitals could play a spy in a television series. Bruce Boudreau declared, with a tragic sigh, that Ovi probably wouldn't be able to play...
Things only started coming in focus during the pre-game warm-ups. Guest number 8 spent a lot of time warming up on the ice, doing a lot of stretches. After that, Ovi started taking shots at the net with defenseman Green passing him the puck. Just watching him, it didn't seem like the Russian had been sidelined for two weeks, so powerful were his trademark shots.
However, the Russian National Team leader did start out playing fairly cautiously. This continued until the midpoint of the first period, when Alexander laid out the powerful New York defender Marc Staal. The famous Madison Square Garden had built a massive wall against the trespasser, but Ovechkin wasn't going to be stopped now. He had undoubtedly gotten dialed into the game. And soon the Muscovite showed that it wasn't for naught that he had worked so hard on his shot during the warm-ups. After a bump pass from Mike Green during a power play, he shot the puck past Henrik Lundqvist's right hand corner with an almost imperceptible blast
OVECHKIN: ‘THE FIGHT WOKE US UP'
During the second period, Ovechkin found a diagonal pass from Captain Chris Clark, who shot it over to Green, and the pass was put home by Brooks Laich. Besides a goal in his first game after returning from his injury, Alexander also racked up seven hits, more than anyone else on either team. After the game, Alex answered some questions from your SE reporter.
Not a bad comeback after an injury, wouldn't you say?
"Yeah, it was really good to score in the very first period. It really helps your self-confidence. But I really have to hand it to our tough-guy, Bradley. Today we came out on the ice a little sleepy after a three-day rest. But his fight really woke up the team. We started moving and playing more forcefully. And he made a beautiful game-winning goal. Way to go!"
Is the fact that you played a defensive position during the power play connected with your injury?"
"No, it's just simply that Mo had been on the ice for a long time and was a little tired. Coach told me to move "up". As you saw, that brought us success since I was able to beat Lundqvist."
How do you feel physically?
"Outstanding! I can't wait to get back out on the ice. Those two weeks which I spent on the sidelines seemed like an eternity. Plus, I was able to return in the most well-known arena on earth. I really like to play here, because the fans create an unforgettable hockey atmosphere. It's really great that we were able to win, especially since we haven't won here for a long time."
It seemed like you were playing a little bit cautiously at the beginning of the game.
"You're right, I was a little afraid to make hard hits, I was feeling a little bit of psychological pressure. I was subconsciously worried about re-injuring myself. But after Staal got caught up under my arm, I realized that my injury wasn't going to bother me and I could play at full strength. Then I got back to my usual game. (smiles)"
So you could say that Ovechkin's injury is behind him?
"Yes, I feel great."
VARLAMOV: ‘SASHKA- WAY TO GO'
One of the heroes of the game, Washington goalkeeper Semyon Varlamov, also shared his impressions with your SE reporter.
How were you able to beat a usually super-aggressive team?
"We played really well today on defense and we took advantage of the few chances which we got."
Can you tell a difference in a game with Ovechkin and one without him?
"I think that the team had a certain amount of nervousness. But we saw how Ovi played at full strength and that gave us confidence. Today he started playing actively right from the start, making a goal on the power play, playing twenty minutes, always leading the team."
Did your heart skip a beat when you saw how Alex was making one hard hit after another?
"We knew that he had trained well, and his recovery went a lot faster than anticipated. So basically, Sashka- way to go! He always kept the pressure on their defense, he played selflessly and he led the team."
Was it a difficult victory?
"We were really sweating several times, thinking that the Rangers might find the game which they were demonstrating at the beginning of the season. I'm really glad that we were able to keep the advantage."