Cam Cole: Islanders’ Boychuk keeps Caps’ Ovechkin in check

 

Bruising ex-Bruins blue-liner a standout on Long Island

 
 
 
 
New York Islanders defenceman Johnny Boychuk knocks down Washington Capitals star Alex Ovechkin during the second period of Game 3 of their Eastern Conference quarter-final series at the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Uniondale, N.Y., on Sunday, April 19, 2015.
 

New York Islanders defenceman Johnny Boychuk knocks down Washington Capitals star Alex Ovechkin during the second period of Game 3 of their Eastern Conference quarter-final series at the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Uniondale, N.Y., on Sunday, April 19, 2015.

Photograph by: Bruce Bennett, Getty Images

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UNIONDALE, N.Y. — Jack Capuano isn’t so big on names. Numbers, he likes.

“Without 3 in the lineup, 55’s matchup with 8 is really important,” said the New York Islanders’ coach.

In order, the clues represent Travis Hamonic, Johnny Boychuk and Alex Ovechkin.

“If you’re going to have a chance to win a series, your best players gotta be your best players, and if you look at 91 and 21 and 51 and the guys who’ve been around here for a while, they stepped up,” Capuano said.

Translation: John Tavares, Kyle Okposo and Frans Nielsen.

But handling the Washington Capitals’ nuclear weapon, Ovechkin, has fallen mostly to 55, the 31-year-old heart and soul defenceman whose acquisition for draft picks last October is widely held to have changed the direction of two franchises: the decline of the Boston Bruins and the rise of the team from “Lon Guyland.”

“It’s a challenge for him,” Capuano said. “Not only 55, I think a lot of guys have been good. We’re talking about 8 but they got a couple other guys on their hockey club, 19 (Nicklas Backstrom), and 52 (Mike Green) on the back end. Johnny’s done a good job.”

So far, anyway. But the job only gets more difficult.

Ovechkin has just one goal and two assists in his last 12 road playoff games, so he doesn’t appear to relish the special attention he gets, although he sees the opposition’s best defence pair all season.

But a slump can end suddenly, as Sidney Crosby proved two nights ago. And Ovechkin is a big, strong emotional player with a load of determination and a palpable hunger for goals.

“Playoffs are a different animal,” said Caps coach Barry Trotz, who had to do the talking because Ovechkin declined to speak Monday, on orders (or the OK) from the media relations department.

The Isles took a 2-1 series lead on Tavares’s goal 15 seconds into overtime Sunday, but three games into it there is nothing like a clear consensus on either team’s chances of advancing.

Ovechkin managed just three shots on goal in Game 3 (nine other attempts were blocked, two missed the net) — and there was one shift at the end of the second period in which Boychuk blocked three Ovechkin shots and, in an act of pure desperation, swept his stick around while lying on his back and knocked the puck away, preventing a scoring chance by The Great 8 with the period’s final seconds ticking away.

The fans chanted his name (not his number) at the period break.

Boychuk, paired with ex-Blackhawk Nick Leddy on what has become the Isles’ top D unit, led all skaters with 26:23 of ice time and was on for both Islander goals.

He said he relishes playing against Ovechkin.

“Well … you have to. It’s your job to try to shut him down. He’ll still get some chances, but you just have to be aware of where he is on the ice,” Boychuk said.

“He’s physical. He’s a tank. When he hits guys, you feel it. He’s a great player for that, too. He’s played extremely well this year, even defensively he’s cleaned up, and the physical aspect of his game was always there.

“You try to just play close to him. He’s going to hit you, and you’ve gotta take it. Just embrace the hit and … you know, try not to get hurt.”

Trotz agreed with Capuano’s “your best players gotta be your best players” comment.

“You need a complete effort from everyone, but your core players have to be really good,” Trotz said. “You’re going to have some challenges along the way, and this is another one. Alex can be a difference-maker, and I expect him to be.

“All the top players take the brunt of the criticism, because they’re the ones that are supposed to be the difference-makers, and that’s with every team in the league. He’s still a young man and a tremendous talent and he still wants to learn and grow. Every time I’ve asked Alex to do something, he’s been willing to do it.”

The Caps came back from a two-goal deficit to win Game 2, and now they have to respond from being down a game.

“You gotta realize one thing: they’re playing, too,” said Capuano. “They put us on our heels (Friday), no different from what we did to them. That’s what good teams do.”

Whatever Ovechkin’s silence Monday may mean, Trotz is not concerned about the pressure taking a toll on his star.

“I think that’s the part you have to learn from. Instead of taking its toll, it’s got to be embraced and cherished,” said the coach.

“Coming out yesterday, we’re in enemy territory. Whatever this place seats, they are not cheering for us. It was a great atmosphere. This is what you play for, the emotional highs and lows, how you respond, how you embrace the battle.

“The one thing I found out about Alex Ovechkin: he’s not scared of anything.”

ccole@vancouversun.com

Twitter.com/rcamcole

 
 
 
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New York Islanders defenceman Johnny Boychuk knocks down Washington Capitals star Alex Ovechkin during the second period of Game 3 of their Eastern Conference quarter-final series at the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Uniondale, N.Y., on Sunday, April 19, 2015.
 

New York Islanders defenceman Johnny Boychuk knocks down Washington Capitals star Alex Ovechkin during the second period of Game 3 of their Eastern Conference quarter-final series at the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Uniondale, N.Y., on Sunday, April 19, 2015.

Photograph by: Bruce Bennett, Getty Images

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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