Thrashers Use Overtime to Spoil Ovechkin's Evening

Alexander Ovechkin
After missing his last six shootout attempts, Alexander Ovechkin says he will try a new approach. (Jonathan Newton - The Washington Post)
By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, October 15, 2006

The evening was supposed to belong to the Washington Capitals and Alex Ovechkin, who was honored during a pregame ceremony for winning the Calder Trophy as the NHL's top rookie last season.

But Ovechkin was overshadowed by Atlanta goaltender Kari Lehtonen, who kept his club close, and then Thrashers star Ilya Kovalchuk, whose overtime goal lifted the visitors to a 4-3 victory before 11,995 at Verizon Center.

"He's a good shooter," Ovechkin said of Kovalchuk, who entered scoreless in five games. "He shoot top shelf. He do his job; he score goal."

Kovalchuk, who had two assists and a game-high 10 shots, blasted over the blueline and ripped the puck past Capitals goaltender Olie Kolzig's glove hand at 3 minutes 2 seconds of the extra session.

"I was late on the change," said veteran Ben Clymer, who was defending Kovalchuk as he raced into the Capitals' zone. "I was trying to put him in as low percentage of an area as possible. And he scored."

Kolzig finished with 27 saves; Lehtonen made 35 for the Thrashers, who were playing for the second consecutive night. Ovechkin, meantime, had an assist and finished with six shots.

"He played very well," Capitals Coach Glen Hanlon said of the Thrashers' netminder. "He made a couple of good saves, and we had some good chances we just didn't capitalize."

Dainius Zubrus tied the score at 3 with a rebound goal with 5:40 remaining in regulation. Ovechkin took the original shot, which Lehtonen stopped with his pad. But the rebound kicked out to Zubrus, who fired it past Lehtonen's catching glove.

It was a blown opportunity to earn two points for the Capitals, who were playing a tired Thrashers team that arrived in Washington about 2 a.m. On Friday night, Atlanta battled back from a three-goal deficit against the visiting Carolina Hurricanes, only to surrender a goal to Ray Whitney with a half-second remaining in regulation and fall, 4-3.

A demoralizing loss, for sure, but it still was not as bad as the defeat they suffered in Washington on April 17, the Thrashers' last visit to Verizon Center. The last-place Capitals' 6-4 victory prevented Atlanta from earning the franchise's first playoff berth.

Perhaps they erased that memory with last night's victory.

Kovalchuk "followed the program until the last shot," Thrashers Coach Bob Hartley said. "He's going to sleep like a baby tonight."

Capitals defenseman Jamie Heward opened the scoring on the power play at 5:41 of the first period. The veteran pinched deep into the zone and chipped in a cross-ice pass from Alexander Semin, who has recorded at least one point in each game.

But the Capitals couldn't keep out of the penalty box -- or keep the lead. Atlanta's Marian Hossa blasted a slap shot from the top of the circle past Kolzig at 15:25 to even the score at 1. Kolzig was screened by Thrashers captain Scott Mellanby.

Jon Sim gave Atlanta a 2-1 lead at 1:24 of the second period when he backhanded the puck between Kolzig's pads from just outside the crease. It was Sim's ninth goal and 13th point in 15 career games against the Capitals.

The Thrashers stayed ahead until 15:38, when Capitals captain Chris Clark turned a fortunate bounce into a tie game. Clymer's slap shot from the point bounced off the end boards and back in front of the Atlanta net, where Clark banged it in.

In the third period, Mellanby put the Thrashers ahead, 3-2, by knocking in a loose puck that trickled into the crease after bouncing off Kolzig and then an Atlanta player.

Ovechkin was honored before the game. With family, majority owner Ted Leonsis and General Manager George McPhee on the ice, the 21-year-old Russian was presented with the Calder Trophy near the Zamboni entrance as his teammates watched from the bench. There was also a video tribute highlighting his first-year accomplishments.

"It's pretty disappointing," Capitals center Brian Sutherby said. "A team coming in, having played last night in what was a tough game for them. We really wanted to come out and take it to them. But we took a couple of penalties and let them stay in the game."


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