WASHINGTON, D.C. - When the Washington Capitals skated onto the ice at Verizon Center for the first time in almost two weeks after a season-long six-game road trip on March 29, there was a certain player that had been a mainstay with the club that wasn't on the ice. And he wasn't happy about it.
"I'd rather not talk about it," Jason Chimera said that day upon hearing of his healthy scratch. "If your boss came to you and said you were sitting out today, would you be happy?"
That was then. Two weeks later, Chimera is once again a mainstay with the team, and he has plenty to be happy about. His goal Friday proved to be the game-winner in a 2-0 victory over the New York Rangers that gave the Caps a 2-0 lead in a first-round 2011 NHL Playoffs series.
"It's nice," Chimera said Friday. "Anytime you play in this atmosphere and get a goal, it's awesome. This is what you live for. It's a great time to play hockey. When you score a goal and contribute and the fans go crazy, it's pretty fun."
Much like the Caps as a whole. Chimera's season has been filled with peaks and valleys. A stint on the top line with Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom in mid-January saw Chimera earn a season-high four-game point streak (two goals, two assists), but after scoring a goal in a February 4 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning, he wouldn't score again until he put in a rebound to give the Caps a 4-3 overtime victory over his former team, the Columbus Blue Jackets, on March 31. It was his first game back in the lineup after being scratched.
"I felt like it was going good all year, but I got snake bit a bit," Chimera said. "It's nice to produce. Because any time you play good and don't get anything out of it, it doesn't mean much. You've got to do something else out there."
Washington acquired Chimera in December 2009 from the Blue Jackets in exchange for defenseman Milan Jurcina and then-captain Chris Clark, so it was obvious that the Caps really coveted him. Upon his arrival, Chimera was the fourth most-experienced player behind Mike Knuble, Brendan Morrison and Tom Poti, as the Caps looked to bring in the same type of veteran leadership that they did this year with the likes of Scott Hannan, Marco Sturm, Dennis Wideman and Arnott.
His unique skill set, especially his forechecking ability and incredible speed, was also something that Washington didn't have in their lineup. Chimera put both of those talents and more to good use Friday. He led the Caps with five hits and found himself open in the slot in front of Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist because of solid pressure in the offensive zone.
"He's heating up and it's playoff time," head coach Bruce Boudreau said. "Sometimes through history there's been guys who have played and raised their level of play at playoff time. I thought he's had two really good games."
As the Caps head to Madison Square Garden with a chance to close out the series next week, Chimera's presence must be felt if the Caps hope to put the finishing touches on the Rangers, both on the ice and off.
"He's a hard working kid," Arnott said. "He's real good in the dressing room with the guys and goes out and plays hard every single night. I think he's overshadowed a little bit. He has a great set of hands and great wheels. Tonight proved it. He scored a a big goal for us to get us going and get us over that hump."