Washington Capitals defenseman Mike Green was the finalist for the Norris Trophy two seasons ago.
It’s something that needs to be cited because the concussion-like symptoms and lower-body injuries not only zapped his playing time — he missed 81 games the past two seasons — but made the blue liner an afterthought. Well, at least until his blistering third-period slap shot that turned into the game-winner in a 3-2 victory over the New York Rangers at the Verizon Center on Saturday afternoon.
“Before he was injured a lot, we used to see that all the time,” said Caps forward Nicklas Backstrom, who, along with Alex Ovechkin, scored Washington’s other goals in a win that tied the best-of-seven, second-round series at 2-2. “It’s great for him and it’s great to see him score a goal. It gives him confidence. (It was) a huge goal for us.”
That trio used to be known as the "Young Guns." Like Green’s injuries being a thing of the past, he insists that nickname is outdated.
“’Young Guns?’” Green smirked when a reporter noted their contribution in Game 4. “We’re not young anymore, but we needed to step up. It’ nice we got a win in our build. We are the guys who need to start scoring.”
Stepping up in that fashion was out of the question just months ago.
Ankle and groin injuries kept Green out for long stretches this season. When he returned to the lineup for good about a month before the end of the regular season, Green’s game didn’t. He had one point (an assist) in those final 10 games and went the final 25 games overall without a goal.
His injuries from a previous season were much more troubling, especially with the growing evidence on the long-term effects of concussions. Green’s concussion problems, coincidently, have cropped up in games involving the Rangers.
He took a hit from Derek Stepan in February 2011 that sent him out for the duration of the 2010-11 regular season. (A slap shot to his head off the stick of Pittsburgh Penguins defensemen Brooks Orpik initially sent Green out of the lineup last season.) Rangers defenseman Matt Gilroy caught Green in the head with a slap shot in Game 5 of the first round that knocked him out of the contest, although he returned in the second round last year.
All those injuries and the passage of time from his 76-point 2009-10 season have moved Green not only outside of the conversation when the league’s elite defensemen are mentioned, but he’s also behind Karl Alzner and John Carlson on his own team.
“We needed that today,” Capitals rookie goalie Braden Holtby said. “(In the) past we’ve kind of been relying on our character guys, and it’s great to see those guys have good games. Especially Greenie. He’s been working hard and doing all the little things right and to see it rewarded on the stat sheet is huge.”
Backstrom, like Green, has battled through his own concussion issues that kept him out of 40 games this season. Then there’s Saturday’s other star, who might again run afoul of league rules put in place to limit head injuries.
It looked like one of Ovechkin’s oft-replayed goal celebrations as he left his feet in the second period. The problem was the Capitals captain wasn’t throwing himself into the boards to commemorate a tally. He had launched his body into Rangers defenseman Dan Girardi.
Replays showed that the original point of contact might have been Girardi’s shoulder, but Girardi was slow to get off the ice. A charging minor was called on the play and the league office will no doubt review the incident for supplemental discipline.
Ovechkin has been suspended three times in the past three seasons over dangerous hits, including a three-game ban in January for a collision with Pittsburgh’s Zbynek Michalek.
Ovechkin told reporters he hit only Girardi’s shoulder.
"I just missed the puck,” Ovechkin said. “I tried to kick the puck and I saw he was coming, so I just tried to protect myself."
You usually don’t do that by leaping at your opponent. His coach, Dale Hunter, called it “incidental contact.”
It could have easily been a major penalty, sending the Rangers on a prolonged power play. But, alas, the Rangers could have taken issue with a number of other calls in Game 4.
“I’m not going to comment on that,” Rangers defenseman Marc Staal said when asked about the officiating. “It’ll just get me in trouble.”
Rangers coach John Tortorella was even more succinct, offering up a simple “No” when asked for his take on the way the game was called before he walked off the podium.
It seems unlikely Ovechkin will get any more of a fine this time, so he’ll likely be in the lineup for Game 5 at Madison Square Garden on Monday.
The Caps will at least have Green and, if Saturday is any indication, maybe the old Green, too.