WASHINGTON – The physicality picked up in Game 3 of the Washington Capitals first-round series against the Hurricanes in Carolina on Monday.
The defending NHL champion Capitals lost the game 5-0, but still lead the series 2-1. And the Hurricanes lost a key player.
The Capitals’ physicality was encapsulated in a fight in the first period.
Shortly after winger Warren Foegele scored to give Carolina a 1-0 lead, Capitals star winger and captain Alex Ovechkin exchanged slashes with Hurricanes winger Andrei Svechnikov. Both agreed to drop the gloves.
Ovechkin landed consecutive crushing right hands and dropped Svechnikov, who hit his head on the ice when he fell. Svechnikov stayed down on the ice for several minutes and appeared very woozy. He eventually left the ice without a stretcher but needed assistance to gingerly skate to the locker room.
“The game doesn’t really matter when something like that happens,” Hurricanes defenseman Dougie Hamilton said after the game. “You just can’t get it out of your head. I just hope he’s OK.”
Ovechkin also showed concern for Svechnikov, who is in concussion protocol and isn’t expected to be available for Thursday’s game.
“First of all, I hope he’s OK,” Ovechkin told reporters after the game. “I’m not a big fighter and he’s the same way. He asked me to fight and I said, ‘let’s go.’”
Carolina’s coach, Rod Brind’Amour, was not happy with Ovechkin and said he shouldn’t have fought Svechnikov.
“I don’t know if there’s words exchanged, but one guy’s gloves comes off way first and that’s Ovi’s, it’s not our guy’s,” Brind’Amour told reporters after the game. “It’s a little bit frustrating because he got hurt and it’s his first fight. He’s played 90 games, he’s never fought in his life and I’m pretty sure Ovi knew that. That stuff bothers me, but it’s done.”
Video appears to show both players agreeing to drop the gloves and Svechnikov threw some punches before Ovechkin landed the knockout blow.
It was Svechnikov’s first fight in the NHL (he had one as a junior player) and Ovechkin’s first fight since 2010. Svechnikov is listed at 195 pounds, while Ovechkin is listed at 235 pounds on Hockey-Reference.
Svechnikov, the second pick in last year’s draft, hasn’t missed any games yet this season and the 19-year-old scored 20 goals in the regular season. He already scored 2 goals and added an assist in the playoff series before the fight.
Earlier in the series, Svechnikov told NBC Sports that he looked up to Ovechkin and grew up idolizing him. Both players are Russian.
The Hurricanes rallied behind their injured player after the fight and dominated the Capitals in the game, out-shooting them 45-18 on their way to the 5-0 victory.
Hurricanes forward and captain Justin Williams called the atmosphere in the arena “absolutely electric” after the game.
The Capitals struggled to get any momentum going and leaders ripped the team’s performance.
“I’d say they had a little bit more desperation level than we had going into (the game), so we didn’t deserve to win,” Capitals coach Todd Reirden said in his postgame press conference.
“We just stopped playing,” Ovechkin said. “We can’t play like that if we want to win. We’re better than that.”
The Capitals will have their shot at redemption and control of the series Thursday night in Carolina. A win would push Carolina to the brink of elimination and give the Caps a 3-1 cushion in the best-of-seven series. A loss would level the series and put the pressure on the Caps to bounce back at home in Game 5.