The Capitals’ three biggest stars put on a show at PNC Arena in Raleigh, N.C., Tuesday night. They led the rally from a two-goal deficit as Washington trounced the Carolina Hurricanes, 5-3, to move within two points of the Southeast Division lead.
Alex Ovechkin recorded three points, including his 19th and 20th goals of the season, becoming the only player to hit the 20-goal plateau in every season since the 2004-05 lockout. He also extended his scoring streak, which dates to March 17 vs. Buffalo, to nine games, posting 10 goals and five assists in that span.
Asked what it meant to him to score at least 20 goals for an eighth consecutive season, Ovechkin replied: “It means I’m back on track. Every game I have pretty good chances. My linemates do great job. And when you score goals, you have that kind of confidence when you have puck on your stick, you can see it and you can feel the game. Shots [go] in and it’s always nice.”
Ovechkin started the comeback when he scored with 39 seconds remaining in the first period to put the Capitals on the board and cut the deficit to 2-1. He stepped into a wicked shot, firing the puck into the top left corner of the net behind Carolina goaltender Dan Ellis.
“It was great,” Coach Adam Oates said. “We had nothing, we gave them two, we didn’t have a great start. Big goal for us to get back into the game and [we had the] intermission to regroup.”
That goal — the Capitals’ first four tallies, for that matter – wouldn’t have been possible if not for Nicklas Backstrom’s best game of the season. He recorded four assists, his first such night since Nov. 11, 2010, with the precision and savvy that have become his trademarks.
On Ovechkin’s first goal, Backstrom made a slight drop pass and then occupied Carolina’s top defenseman, Tim Gleason, so the star winger would have room to walk into his shot. Backstrom fed Mike Green on the power play for the slapper that tied the game at 2 and then found the defenseman again with a drop pass less than four minutes later to set up his second goal. It marked the first time since Oct. 22, 2011, that Green recorded two goals in a game.
“He’s back to his game,” Green said of Backstrom. “He slows everything down, he makes great plays and makes the players around him better. He’s come into his own I think with the shortened season, this is about when guys start to feel good during the season.”
Backstrom and Ovechkin joined forces once more with 11:06 gone in the second on a two-on-one. Washington’s top center fed the puck across left to right to Ovechkin for a wrister that put the Capitals ahead 4-3 and stood as the eventual game-winner. The tally came with Ovechkin’s patented leap-into-the-glass celebration, something that hasn’t occurred often this season or last but remains a reliable measure of his enthusiasm.
“He has a little confidence, score a couple goals,” Backstrom said of Ovechkin on this streak. “That makes you feel good and that’s what I think he feels. He’s finishing checks, he’s working hard and that’s what I think is different right now, that’s why he’s scoring.”
In an unrelated note, Matt Hendricks’s eye was scratched during a scrum early in the second period. The gritty forward took just one shift in the middle stanza but returned for the third but only took three shifts. Oates said Hendricks was “okay”.