ARLINGTON, Va. — So it turns out Alex Ovechkin is not thrilled with playing less in the playoffs.
Less than a week after saying it “doesn’t matter” that he’s been on the bench for long stretches of the Washington Capitals’ first-round series against the Boston Bruins, the two-time NHL MVP changed his tune a bit Tuesday, acknowledging he gets upset when he’s not on the ice.
But Ovechkin — paid nearly $10 million a year as Washington’s captain and leading scorer — added that he doesn’t really have much say in the matter.
“Of course, sometimes you get angry you didn’t play a lot (of) minutes. And sometimes you get angry you’re not out there,” Ovechkin said after practice Tuesday. “But if it’s good for the team, you have to eat it.”
Ovechkin played a career playoff-low 15 minutes, 34 seconds in Game 5 of Washington’s Eastern Conference series against the Stanley Cup champion Bruins. That was after coach Dale Hunter kept Ovechkin on the bench for all but 15 seconds over the final 14 minutes of Game 4.
The teams are tied at three games apiece heading into Game 7 at Boston on Wednesday night. Ovechkin has two goals and three assists for a team-high five points in the series.
A day after Game 4, Ovechkin said: “It doesn’t matter how many minutes I play. Of course I want to be there, but it’s his decision,” referring to Hunter.
Asked Tuesday about his changing role under Hunter, Ovechkin chuckled and replied: “My role is still to score goals. But sometimes, in different situations, he puts different guys out there. If we win, we win. If we lose, we’re going to lose.”
Hunter says that the particular circumstances of a game — including which team is leading at the time, and which forward lines Boston has on the ice — dictate Ovechkin’s minutes.
“He’s a big part of the team. … But still, you need the whole team. Come a game like this, you need the four lines and the six ‘D’ and the goalie going,” Hunter said. “Come playoff time, it’s always the surprise guys who score the big goals to win the games.”
Ovechkin’s not necessarily known for helping his team protect a lead with the sort of defensive hockey the Capitals have made an effort to turn to after year after year of go-go, aggressive, outscore-the-other-guys efforts — and year after year of early playoff exits.
The Capitals want Ovechkin on the ice when they’re trailing, hoping he’ll produce the sort of play he did late in Game 6, when his goal made it 3-3 before Boston wound up winning in overtime.
But when they’re ahead? Hunter prefers to go with players who are more likely to block a shot or create a turnover.
“He’s always been a team player. He’s understanding that, although he’s our best player and our go-to guy, there are times when other guys need to go in and do it as well and chip away in order for him to come in and seal the deal,” Capitals defenseman Karl Alzner said. “He understands now exactly why he’s not out there at times. It’s not a shock to me or anybody.”
NOTES: D Jeff Schultz is expected to return to Washington’s lineup, replacing John Erskine alongside Dennis Wideman, who’s been on the ice for eight of Boston’s 12 even-strength goals in the series. Schultz played Games 1-3, Erskine played Games 4-6. “We need to clean up our mistakes. That’s what killed us the last couple games,” Schultz said. … Sounding as confident as ever — and little like the NHL playoff rookie that he is — Capitals G Braden Holtby said: “You have to win certain games in order to get to the Stanley Cup, and this is going to be one of them.” … Each of the first six games of the series has been decided by one goal. Only once has either team led any game by two goals: Washington went up 2-0 in Game 5, but less than 3 minutes later, Boston cut into that lead.