It started with a forearm to Nicklas Backstrom's lower back as he skated with the puck into the Leaf's zone. The extra touch sent the center to his knees and head first into the boards. Without hesitation, Alex Ovechkin was all over Jay McClement, a pivotal reaction that set the tone for the remainder of the game.
"He's our best player," said Ovechkin after the game. "If it was me, if it was Brouwer, Hendy or anybody, anyone would do the same thing."
McClement's teammates arrived first as Jake Gardiner pulled Ovechkin out of the scrum that quickly formed with John Erskine, Steve Oleksy and Marcus Johansson jumping into the mix.
"He's doing exactly what he should do," said Troy Brouwer of Ovechkin. "He's doing exactly what we would expect anybody else on this team to do. We don't expect Alex to fight anybody cause we don't want him in the box for that long but to stand up for someone I would hope him and everybody else would do the exact same thing."
Ovechkin was sent to the box while McClement was free to carry on. The Capitals were forced to kill off a two minute power play to protect their 1-0 lead. As the Caps penalty killing unit worked, the crowd stood, roaring each time the puck was sent to the other end and chanting "Ovi" when the doors finally swung open to release the captain.
"Obviously Alex is a leader," said Oleksy. "For him to do things like that, no matter who it is, the team builds off that. That's part of the team atmosphere we have in the locker room right now is that it doesn't matter who it is, somebody's gonna jump in there. I think that's why we have the team toughness we have right now, everyone working together. Obviously that shows a lot of character for Alex to get in there. That set the tone for the rest of the game for us."
Toronto managed just one shot on goal as an agressive Caps PK dominated possession.
"Those kind of penalties you just want to kill every time," said Backstrom "[Ovechkin] defended me."
It wasn't a dirty hit, perse, as Backstrom explained, he didn't believe McClement meant to do it. Considering the player and his concussion history, however, McClement wouldn't get off easy with the Capitals' bench. As time ticked down in the first, Jason Chimera dropped the gloves with McClement and the two were handed five minute majors.
Though a small dust up ensued at the end of the first period, hostilities did not carry over into the remainder of the contest. Instead, the Caps unleashed an offensive onslaught on the Leafs' net, scoring three in the second period to push their lead to 4-0.
"I think popping a couple goals there and getting a lead kind of calms things down," said Oleksy. "Especially with our power play. They know they can't afford to take penalties and get in a cat fight like that."
The strongest power play unit in the league came up twice on the night in six opportunities for the Caps, while the penalty kill was flawless. Ten of the Washington's 18 skaters ended up with a point by the end of the night. Ovechkin scored his 19th goal in 18 games as the Capitals (12-1-1 in their last 14) claimed a crucial two points in the 5-1 thrashing of the Maple Leafs.
"It's great to see Ovi doing that," said Braden Holtby. "That's a leadership role that he's taking on and that's huge. It wasn't just a little tap, he was meaning that that's not going to happen again. It was great to see and really got our team going."