BOSTON – The buildup for the series was centered around the expected showdown between Zdeno Chara and Alex Ovechkin, but it was Chara’s defense partner Dennis Seidenberg who left the biggest impression on the Capitals star in the opening game of the Bruins’ first-round series.
Actually, they left some pretty good marks on each other in an entertaining but punishing night-long battle.
Seidenberg, playing on the right side of Boston’s top defense pairing, and Ovechkin, the left wing on Washington’s first line, seemed to have almost a magnetic attraction drawing them together throughout Thursday’s contest, which the Bruins finally took 1-0 on Chris Kelly’s goal 1:18 into sudden-death overtime.
Kelly had something on that winning shot that Seidenberg and Chara made sure Ovechkin never did, and that was the space to get off the blast. Thanks largely to the work of those two defensemen blanketing him, Ovechkin managed just one shot in the game.
There clash between Ovechkin and Seidenberg wasn’t anything but blanket soft though. The collided early and often, with Ovechkin finishing with a game-high seven hits and Seidenberg leading the Bruins with six. Most of those were against each other.
“He’s always physical,” Seidenberg said. “He’s a very solid guy and as you can tell, it’s a good challenge and I think me and Zee [Chara] both thrive on that stuff.”
Ovechkin didn’t mind either, enjoying the head-to-head battle if not the final result of the game.
“I think it was a great battle,” Ovechkin said. “He made some big hits. Some big hits. So I’m going to enjoy it, actually.”
Neither Ovechkin nor Seidenberg probably enjoyed the most memorable hit of the night, but everyone else at the Garden certainly relished it. That included the rest of the Bruins, who were still talking about the collision between the two freight trains in front of the benches with just over five minutes played in the second period.
“That was something,” Bruins forward Brian Rolston said. “You could probably hear that one in the press box.”
Seidenberg came across the ice, lining up Ovechkin in the neutral zone. But Ovechkin saw him coming and braced himself, and Seidenberg actually absorbed more of the impact.
“He saw me at the last second and, again, he’s very solid and I just got – I don’t know, I just tried to hit him,” Seidenberg said. “It doesn’t matter who falls at the end, I’ve just got to be in his way so he can’t do anything.”
Ovechkin wasn’t able to do much, but the Bruins still came away impressed by his efforts.
“I think it was nice that our guys did a good job against him, but I also have to give him credit,” Bruins coach Claude Julien said. “He didn’t back down. He played, and he played hard, and he knew he was going to be checked all night, and was going to be, you know, that we were going to have people on him as soon as he got the puck, and didn’t have as much space as I’m sure he’d like to have, but I thought he played a decent game despite that.
“You’ve got to remember, it’s two big, strong defensemen that he has to go through [Chara and Seidenberg], and probably one of the best two-way centermen in the league in Bergy [Patrice Bergeron], so, you know, he was good, but our guys were obviously better tonight.”
Seidenberg’s physical work was a big part of why the Bruins were better, and his teammates certainly recognized his contributions to the victory.
“Absolutely,” Rolston said. “Ovechkin’s not the smallest guy out there, and he comes with a lot heat too, so [Seidenberg] is a guy making it difficult for him and we appreciate it for sure.”
Brad Marchand concurred.
“That’s what playoffs [are] all about, creating battles and enemies,” Marchand said. “The way Seides and Zee played against that line tonight and [Ovechkin] especially was great for us and we’re going to need that if we’re going to keep up with them. Seides battled all night long, made a few big hits and took a couple of hits and that’s what we need out of him.”
Seidenberg, in turn, probably needs an ice pack or two and some aspirin, but he wouldn’t have it any other way.
“[Ovechkin] likes to play a physical game.” Seidenberg said. “We do too. It’s fun. I think we all like it.”