April 13, 2012

Chara, Seidenberg use physicality to keep Ovechkin in check

By Jesse Connolly

BOSTON – Coming into Thursday’s playoff opener, Capitals superstar forward Alex Ovechkin had just one goal in his last nine games against the Bruins. While Boston’s ability to shut down the gifted winger has been a group effort, one player in particular has played a bigger role than any other in keeping him in check. 

A collision between Dennis Seidenberg and Alex Ovechkin knocked both players off their feet in the second period. (Dave Arnold Photography)

He, of course, is literally the biggest man on the ice in this series and in the game today: Zdeno Chara. In what’s been billed as the marquee matchup of this series, the towering, Slovakian defenseman once again got the best of the Russian winger in Game 1 – a 1-0, overtime victory by the Bruins at TD Garden.

Ovechkin was limited to just a single shot on goal in 17:34 of ice time, but it wasn’t solely Chara who kept him from having a big impact. The 6-foot-9 defenseman and partner Dennis Seidenberg made finding space in the offensive zone virtually impossible for him all night.

Their key to success? Being physical with No. 8 from start to finish.

“Yeah, that’s what the playoffs is all about – creating battles and enemies,” winger Brad Marchand said. “The way Seids and Zee played against that line tonight and [Ovechkin] especially was great for us and we’re going to need that if we’re going to keep up with them. Seids battled all night long, made a few big hits and took a couple of hits and that’s what we needed from him.”

Both Chara and Seidenberg had a number of run-ins with Ovechkin throughout the tilt. Chara just narrowly missed annihilating him near the blue line on an open ice hit early in the game, but his German-born partner had the most colossal of collisions with the four-time, fifty-goal scorer.

With a little more than five minutes gone in the second period, Ovechkin had his eyes on the puck as he crossed the red line. When he looked up, No. 44 in black and gold was barreling toward him. The two freight trains both went flying, with Seidenberg getting knocked back and Ovechkin tumbling into the boards in front of Washington’s bench.

“He saw me at the last second and, again, he’s very solid and I just got – I don’t know, I just tried to hit him,” Seidenberg said in humbly describing the play. “It doesn’t matter who falls at the end, I’ve just got to be in his way so he can’t do anything.”

The rest of his teammates certainly got a nice boost of energy from it.

“Yeah, I was very happy,” said Marchand. “You build some momentum off that, and that’s Seids’ game. He’s a very physical guy and he definitely let [Ovechkin] know.”

Given the Capitals captain’s wide array of skills, Seidenberg believes being physical with Ovechkin gives Boston the best chance of neutralizing him.

“Yeah, I mean that’s what it’s about – trying to shut him down,” said Seidenberg. “He’s their biggest offensive threat and you’ve just got to play tough and disrupt his speed and time.”

The B’s dynamic defensive duo executed that plan to perfection on Thursday night.

Jesse Connolly can be reached at jconnolly@hockeyjournal.com. Follow him on Twitter at @JesseNEHJ.