WOW, what a splash Nathan Walker made in his first ever NHL Stanley Cup playoff game.
Inserted in the fourth line for a decisive game six in Pittsburgh, the Aussie stormed down the end boards, torching two Pens D-men before sliding a perfect pass to lineman Alex Chiasson.
Chiasson, a man who Walker had been fighting for a spot in the line-up all season.
He buried his one-timer past Matt Murray, and the fourth line had broken the tie for the Capitals.
Walker’s first assist for the Caps, his most effective play in a Caps jersey.
Forget Walker’s deflected debut goal, that was a result of high hockey IQ, being in the right place at the right time.
This apple, the first point by an Australian in the NHL playoffs, was all class.
His reception of Jay Beagle’s pass was effective, and then skating the puck behind the net, through ‘the office’ which allowed Chiasson to position himself perfectly on the hashmarks and let fly with a shot.
That goal at the start of the second period got the Caps going, and eventually an OT winner sent them through against the two time defending Stanley Cup champions.
Evgeny Kutznetsov scored the ice breaker in overtime, and said this of Walker after the game.
“Nathan Walker, he played unbelievable, played like a little mother f****r. That’s the only one word I have for him.”
Perhaps the wording lacks a little subtlety, but the sentiment is right.
In his eight minutes of ice time, he was tenacious and full of energy.
Pretty much every forecheck (where the forwards press the defenders) he rammed someone against the boards and pressured the Pens D-men.
Nathan got his chance because of a suspension to big man Tom Wilson and an injuries to Andre Burakovsky and Nicklas Backstrom.
The latter two are good players, top six players in fact.
Wilson is an enforcer and gets down and dirty for the Caps, which they’ll need against a powerful Tampa Bay line-up.
So where to now for Walker is interesting.
The whole fourth line was good in game six, out of the trio, Jay Beagle impressed the least, although he was the secondary assist for Chiasson’s goal.
Beagle and Wilson are a like for like, so Walker could keep his spot when Wilson comes back from suspension.
Travis Boyd made his playoff debut, playing centre on the third line – Walker probably did enough to stay in ahead of his long-time Hershey teammate.
Backstrom and Burakovsky will slot in a bit higher up the line-up, forcing the likes of Jakub Vrana and Lars Eller down the pecking order, which would likely squeeze Walker out.
But that’s all dependent on when the injured pair are available to return.
The best of seven series against Tampa Bay will start on Saturday morning Australian time, with coverage live and exclusive on Fox Sports.