Kadri, Komarov, Hunwick, even Marner have Capitals superstar in their sights.
The Maple Leafs’ approach to Alex Ovechkin through four games of their opening-round playoff series with Washington has been straightforward: lay the body on him, cross-check, stay physical.
Even Mitch Marner, one of the lightest Leafs, laid a decent hit on the Capitals superstar.
“Mitch is doing great. He’s got a smile on his face … he’s throwing his weight around, and it’s pretty funny for a 160-pounder,” Leafs winger Matt Martin said with a smile Thursday.
The in-your-face approach will no doubt continue when the teams meet in Game 5 on Friday night in Washington.
Matt Hunwick, whose diligent work on Ovechkin has flown under the radar, has knocked the 235-pounder on his back several times and, like many teammates, used his stick liberally when the Capitals forward is anywhere close to the Leafs’ net.
Still, Ovechkin has scored three of his team’s 14 goals in the series, one of them on the power play.
“He’s a hard guy to knock off his feet,” Kadri said Thursday before the Leafs jetted off to Washington.
“You have to try and frustrate him, limit his room. If you have someone bumping off you wherever you go, it’s frustrating. We’ve done a good job on him, but we can do better.”
Ovechkin has certainly noticed the attention he’s getting and referred to Komarov, a good friend off the ice, as “a bit of a rat” prior to Game 4.
For one, Capitals checking forward Tom Wilson has buried big goals against his hometown team.
“We’ve got the split so far in games,” Kadri said. “We’ve found a way to win games and now we have to figure it out again. We have to play the right way and not trade chances with a team like them.
“It’s going to go back and forth,” Kadri added. “We’re both confident teams.”
Kadri also mentioned the fact that there’s extra pressure on Ovechkin and the Capitals after finishing first overall in the regular season. The veteran club’s competitive window is closing after years of playoff disappointment. Capitals GM Brian MacLellan has indicated the franchise is “going for it” this year and next, and their success or failure will determine what comes next: retool or rebuild.
“For him, it’s probably hard not to think about that sort of thing,” Kadri said of Ovechkin. “He’s focused on the games, but I’m sure he’s feeling it, too.”
“He’s talked about every night by every team he plays against. They all talk about that same thing,” said Leafs defenceman Connor Carrick, a former Capital.
“You’ve seen how he handles it. That’s how elite level players do it. A lesser player might be a different story, but he’s an upper-echelon player. He gets that every night.”