The second period of Wednesday's Game 4 could not have been any worse for the Washington Capitals. Leading their 2011 NHL Playoffs series with the New York Rangers 2-1, the Caps trailed the Rangers 3-0 after 40 minutes of play. Washington was without Mike Knuble, who did not play with an injury,and things looked dire.
But tn the third period, an unfamiliar presence crashed the net twice to give the Caps life.
Marcus Johansson, the 20-year old Sweedish phenom that many felt wasn't ready for this kind of moment, deflected his first and second career playoff goals past Henrik Lundqvist, tying the game and ultimately leading his team to a 4-3 double-overtime comeback victory. Johansson's coming-out on the national stage came at the right time, considering that many felt like he wasn't ready to play in the NHL just a few months ago.
The 20-year-old Swedish rookie, the Caps' first-round selection in 2009 (24th overall), made the Caps out of training camp, but there were plenty of concerns regarding his inexperience. Johansson had never played the North American style of hockey, which includes a smaller rink and different rules regarding faceoffs. Despite his lack of experience, Johansson made the Caps' roster and found himself in the lineup on opening night.
In 69 games, Johansson scored 13 goals and added 14 assists, but he didn't make an impact until the second half of the season. In 26 games in 2010, Johansson only tallied three goals and three assists. Meanwhile, fellow rookie Mathieu Perreault had five goals and two assists in just 12 games, setting up a debate on which player should earn the second-line center position. Johansson spent time in the American Hockey League, but only during a two-game reconditioning stint. Upon his return, Perreault earned more time on the second line, and it seemed as if Johansson would be the odd man out as the third-line center.
Yet, it was Johansson that stayed on the roster, and you know the rest. His best stretch of play came during his stint on the top line while fellow Swede Nicklas Backstrom recovered from a hand injury. A season-high four-game point streak (two goals, three assists) established Johansson has a solid two-way center with playmaking abilities.
And as his confidence grew, so did his role on the team. Johansson saw time on the ice on both the power play and penalty kill. His statistics are modest, with a 40.5% success rate on faceoffs and 14:43 of ice time per game, but Johansson has made his presence felt while on the ice by doing the types of things that aren't recorded, like forechecking and getting the dirty areas. With Jason Arnott's acquisition, Johansson is still on the third line, but it's not a punishment. His two-way style compliments grinders like Brooks Laich, Jason Chimera and Eric Fehr, who have made Johansson a better player and vice versa.
Johansson is now tied for the team lead in plus/minus at plus-3 and in goals with two with Alex Ovechkin, but Johansson's two goals may very well be the biggest of the season for the Caps. When it looked like Washington would blow yet another series lead, Johansson turned momentum in its favor. Arnott's status with the Caps is uncertain at this time, but Johansson will be a key component of their lineup for years to come, whether it be back on the second line or in his usual place on the third line.
Johansson may be a rookie, but his recent playoff performances have given him more valuable experience than he's ever received.