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Hunter says “matching lines” is why Ovechkin played 1:58 in the third period last night

Apr 20, 2012, 1:23 PM EST

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In a game that had no shortage of storylines — Braden Holtby‘s heroics, “Win it for Nicky”, the clock fiasco — it’s easy to overlook how Capitals coach Dale Hunter parked Alex Ovechkin for the third period of Washigton’s 2-1 victory.

Really easy to overlook when you hear Hunter downplay it.

To him, giving Ovechkin four shifts for 1:58 of ice time was no big deal — just part of the mad science of line-matching.

“We were matching lines and they were going back with the [Patrice] Bergeron line,” Hunter told Stephen Whyno of the Washington Times. “So, sometimes lines get short-changed a bit.”

The finer details, from NHL.com:

The Capitals’ captain took a 64-second shift that ended 2:40 into the third, then his final three shifts lasted 39, two and 13 seconds.

He spoke to the media after the game, and no injury was mentioned by Ovechkin nor coach Dale Hunter. The two-second shift happened because he came on the ice during play and then the puck went into the netting two seconds later. Hunter went with a different line for the ensuing faceoff.

The same thing happened on his final shift — a stoppage in play led Hunter to choose other players for the faceoff.

It should be noted Ovi had a costly turnover in the first period, which led to Rich Peverley‘s game-tying marker. That’s important in light of what Hunter did back in early March in a game against Philadelphia:

Sunday night’s lone goal in a Flyers’ 1-0 win over the Caps began as an offensive-zone turnover by Alex Ovechkin in the second period and led to some time on the bench for the superstar. “It’s tough loss for us, I think,” Ovechkin said. “My mistake cost us two points and it cost us the game.”

After that goal, Ovechkin didn’t take a shift for the next 6 minutes 39 seconds but Coach Dale Hunter insisted that he wasn’t benching the captain, rather that he was simply matching lines. “Guys, it’s not a benching. Maybe he missed a shift. Guys, I was matching lines,” Hunter explained to reporters.

As for Game 4…the Bergeron-Lucic-Peverley line played a ton in the third (around seven minutes) and saw a lot of the Troy Brouwer-Jay Beagle-Matt Hendricks checking line. From a coaching perspective, the matching makes sense…but from an optics standpoint, it’s still pretty crazy to see the team captain not play the final six minutes of a crucial playoff game.

  1. villi5ed - Apr 20, 2012 at 1:40 PM

    Ovi’s turnover is being so overblown. For God’s sake it didn’t take place in the neutral zone or at either blue line —- it was deep in the B’s territory. Wideman was the true culprit for mindlessly heading to the net.

  2. cowboys282 - Apr 20, 2012 at 1:50 PM

    I remember at some point in the game the NESN broadcast pointed to a play where it looked like Ovi got shaken up in the 2nd period. I would have to go back in watch it. Washington would never let on to an injury at this point. I wonder if it is injury related.

  3. govtminion - Apr 20, 2012 at 2:13 PM

    Has to be an injury. I can’t imagine a situation in which, matchups be damned, you only utilize your best player for a couple of minutes total in the third period of a game you only lead by one goal. I refuse to believe Hunter is that stupid.

  4. chocolatecitywarrior - Apr 20, 2012 at 2:20 PM

    Let’s see if Claude Julien knows how to match lines on Saturday…or whether he ate his lineup card and will just wing it like he has been all series. I love that his attempts to shake up the lines the past few games have led to ZERO points for Seguin, Lucic, Marchand, etc. His attempts at coaching this series has included browbeating the officials for not calling enough penalties and…that’s about it. Just shows that even the coach of a Boston team overreacts just as much as the fan base at the first sign of pressure.

    • crmgoodness - Apr 20, 2012 at 3:44 PM

      Browbeating…huh? Seriously what are you talking about? Most of the complaining about officiating has come from Dale and the Caps management. Claude has tried to mix up lines because those guys aren’t producing…that’s not a revolutionary coaching technique. The fact that it hasn’t worked is less a reflection on Claude as it is on the players themselves underachieving as well as the Caps doing a good job shutting them down.

      As for pressure…I’m pretty sure no one is overreacting here. This Bruins team won 3 game 7’s last year so I think they’re quite accustomed to playing under pressure. This has been a good series so far on both sides so I’m not sure why there are so many angry, snarky Caps fan posts. Enjoy the rest of it. Whichever team wins will have earned it.

  5. avallstar - Apr 20, 2012 at 2:26 PM

    He had a big (and awkward) collision with Chara and I wouldn’t be surprised if that banged him up a bit.

  6. rockthered1286 - Apr 20, 2012 at 3:41 PM

    Don’t inflate your ego too much there Boston. It’s not an injury. Ovi is fine. Watch the replay and how the lines work out. Hunter speaks the truth.

    Maybe be a little more concerned about scoring and less concerned about injuries. Oh yea, and fella Backstrom coming back and he. is. pissed.

  7. ray2013 - Apr 20, 2012 at 6:30 PM

    They should keep up the “win one for Nicky” campaign going next game. How can you quit it when you won the last game?

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