By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, February 1, 2008
Alex Ovechkin's night began with him lying face down on the ice after being whacked unintentionally across the face by Alex Kovalev's stick, a blow that opened a wound on the inside of his cheek.
It ended with the Washington Capitals all-star sitting atop the NHL in points for the first time in his stellar three-season career after scoring four goals, including the winner in overtime, to lift the Capitals to 5-4 victory at Verizon Center and strengthen his candidacy for the Hart Trophy, given to the league's MVP.
Along the way, his nose was also broken by Francis Bouillon's shoulder check, and an errant puck left him bleeding on the inside of his lower lip.
"Today was special day," said Ovechkin, who has scored three or more goals four times in his career, but not at home until last night's scintillating performance. "I broke my nose, I have stitches, I score four goals. Everything go to my face. It's the fifth time I broke my nose. It's okay."
Ovechkin, who also had an assist, moved into sole possession of the NHL scoring lead with 70 points, two more than Ottawa's Daniel Alfredsson and Tampa Bay's Vinny Lecavalier. The 22-year-old Russian, who signed the league's wealthiest contract -- a 13-year, $124 million deal three weeks ago -- also leads the league in goals with 43, five more than Atlanta's Ilya Kovalchuk.
"He's an amazing person," Coach Bruce Boudreau said. "Don't get him angry."
His goal in overtime made sure he and his teammates didn't go home that way.
The Capitals took a 4-3 lead into the final minute of play, but Canadiens winger Guillaume Latendresse jammed a loose puck from underneath Washington goalie Olie Kolzig (17 saves) with 33 seconds remaining in regulation to steal a point and force overtime. Montreal had pulled goaltender Cristobal Huet for a sixth attacker.
Ovechkin, however, secured both points in the standings for the Capitals when he fired a rebound past Huet (33 saves) with 1 minute 26 seconds remaining in the extra session. Defenseman Jeff Schultz sent a pass to Ovechkin, who whiffed on the first attempt but got all of the second.
"Ovie plays with an edge, and you know the saying, 'Don't wake up a sleeping giant?' Not saying Ovie sleeps every night, but he threw it into an extra gear" after being slashed by Kovalev, Kolzig said.
It was Ovechkin's second four-goal game of the season; the other was in an 8-6 win at Ottawa on Dec. 29.
The victory comes two days after Washington was throttled in Montreal, 4-0. It also extended the Capitals' streak of not losing back-to-back games in regulation to 31, and stretched their home winning streak to five games. That, after opening the season a league-worst 2-7-0 in the District.
"We don't have the consistency of the Detroit Red Wings or anything, but when we put our mind to it and play the way we're supposed to play, we're pretty tough to beat," Boudreau said.
Ovechkin's outburst also pushed him past the 40-goal plateau for the third consecutive season, equaling Peter Bondra's club record of scoring at least 40 goals, achieved from 1995-96 to 1997-98.
Viktor Kozlov had a goal and two assists for Washington, which played without defenseman Shaone Morrisonn for a third consecutive game because of a bruised foot last night.
Ovechkin was slashed across the left side of his face by Kovalev's high stick 55 seconds in. He remained on the ice for about a minute but stayed in the game. When he returned to the ice, Ovechkin was angry. The powerful winger, who in addition to being one of the game's most dangerous goal scorers is also one of its best hitters, crushed Montreal's Steve Begin in open ice with a shoulder check. It was the first of Ovechkin's five hits, and it came moments before his first goal.
Ovechkin put the Capitals ahead 1-0 at 13:06 of the first period after taking a crossing pass from Milan Jurcina. Ovechkin snapped a one-timer over Huet before the goaltender could get from one side of the crease to the other. Kozlov made it 2-0 when he redirected Ovechkin's cross-crease pass around Huet at 4:35 of the second period.
Ovechkin made it 3-0 thanks to a beautiful pass from Kozlov, who threaded the puck between Montreal defenseman Roman Hamrlik's skates and onto Ovechkin's stick blade.
Ovechkin's third goal came with 7:30 remaining in regulation and put the Capitals ahead 4-2.
"Alex's game was excellent," Kozlov said. "Hitting people, passing, scoring. I don't know what other forwards could do that."