Ovechkin Hits the Switch, Caps Burst Past Lightning

ovechkin - capitals - nhl
Rookie Alex Ovechkin is euphoric after scoring a goal deep into the third period to send Tuesday's game at MCI Center into overtime, where he would win it in a shootout. (Nick Wass - AP)
By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Alex Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals had finally found their stride, but they were running out of time.

Still, judging from the way Ovechkin and his teammates were buzzing around the Tampa Bay Lightning's goal in the final minutes last night, something seemed bound to happen.

And with 1 minute 15 seconds left in regulation, it did. Ovechkin took a pass from Jeff Halpern at center ice, muscled his way past a Lightning defender and flipped the puck into the net, tying the game, much to the roaring approval of the fans at MCI Center.

Ovechkin's goal forced overtime and ultimately a shootout, the rambunctious rookie's personal playground.

It was then, in penalty shots, that the 20-year-old left wing scored the deciding goal and backup goalie Brent Johnson turned away all three Lightning shooters to clinch the Capitals' 4-3 victory, their second shootout win over the defending champions.

"I knew what I must do," said Ovechkin, who is 3 for 3 in penalty shots this season. "I just go, shoot it and score. I've scored penalty shot on him before, so he knows what I do. I know when I sit on the bench, I must shoot."

Ovechkin's previous two penalty shot goals began with a stutter-step fake in deep and ended with him backhanding the puck from point-blank range. Lightning goalie Sean Burke saw that move on Oct. 16. So this time, Ovechkin picked a corner and fired a wrist shot over Burke's glove. The veteran was helpless to stop it.

"When I score, I am always lucky," Ovechkin joked.

Although the improbable victory, their first in four games, will be remembered for Ovechkin's timely performance, the game might not have gotten to a shootout -- or ended triumphantly -- if not for the play of Johnson. He made 32 saves, earned his first victory in four starts, and made a huge play of his own in penalty shots, when he poke-checked the puck off Tampa Bay defenseman Pavel Kubina's stick to seal the win.

"I'm happy for all of them, but particularly for Brent Johnson," Coach Glen Hanlon said. "Being in that position before, I know what a great feeling that is, and it's a weight off his shoulders to win [his first] hockey game."

After Tampa Bay's Fredrik Modin scored his second goal of the game to put the Lightning ahead 3-1 at 6 minutes 29 seconds of the third period, Ovechkin and the Capitals turned up the pressure on Burke. The effort paid off when defenseman Bryan Muir's power play slap shot found the net, trimming the deficit to one goal near the midway point of the period.

Then Ovechkin took things into his hands. He was consistently the best player on the ice, but had little to show for it until his powerful charge down the left wing, a play that ended with him lifting the puck, backhanded, over Burke (37 saves). After the puck went in, Ovechkin skated to the end boards and leapt, bumping the glass enthusiastically while pumping his fists.

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