For Caps, Life Begins at 50

By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Alex Ovechkin's first shot of the day -- fired during the morning skate -- rang off goaltender Olie Kolzig's mask.

Ovechkin's aim, though, was much more accurate last night against the Boston Bruins.

The all-star winger netted goals 50, 51 and 52 to highlight a six-goal opening period for the Washington Capitals, who cruised to a 10-2 victory over the Boston Bruins and pulled within three points of the Southeast Division lead with 15 games remaining.

Ovechkin, 22, has five career games with at least three tallies, including a pair of four-goal games this season. Last night's hat trick came in Washington's 67th game; he reached the 50-goal plateau faster than any player since Pavel Bure got there in 63 games during the 1999-2000 season.

Ovechkin also had two assists, putting him atop the league in goals and points with 90, two more than Pittsburgh's Evgeni Malkin.

"It just happens," Ovechkin said, shrugging. "You are going to score lots of games, and some you aren't. Today, everything just went to the net."

For the Capitals, the outburst marked their highest goal total since a 12-2 pasting of the Florida Panthers on Jan. 11, 2003 -- and it provided an emphatic response to Saturday's 3-2 loss to Toronto, a defeat Coach Bruce Boudreau called "unacceptable."

"I don't think anyone expected a first period like that," Boudreau said. "We wanted to score the first goal, and keep coming."

Did they ever.

Recently acquired energy winger Matt Cooke got things going with his first strike as a Capital only 32 seconds into the game.

Ovechkin took it from there, scoring three of the next four goals to help send the Capitals into the first intermission ahead 6-0. By the time he was done, Ovechkin had also equaled his career high for goals in a season, set in 2005-06, and joined Peter Bondra and Dennis Maruk as the only Capitals to record two 50-goal seasons.

"You can't keep a guy like Alex down," Boudreau said. "If you get six, seven shots on goal every night, you're going to score goals, especially when your shot is a powerful as his."

Although the blowout will be remembered for Ovechkin's milestone performance, he certainly wasn't the only Washington player to stand out.

Cooke also had a pair of assists; Nicklas Backstrom scored his first goal since Jan. 17 and had three assists; Brooks Laich and Matt Bradley each scored twice; Eric Fehr notched three assists; and goaltender Cristobal Huet improved to 2-0 since being acquired from Montreal at the trade deadline last week.

Huet (two goals on 22 shots) left the game at the end of the second period with back spasms and was replaced at the start of the third period by Kolzig. Huet later said the injury was not serious and that he left the game for precautionary reasons.

Even enforcer Donald Brashear got into the action. In addition to fighting Bruins captain Zdeno Chara and Shawn Thornton, he also scored for the second time in three games. The Capitals now trail the Southeast Division-leading Carolina Hurricanes, 73-70, in the standings with a game in hand.

Given the confidence-crushing nature of Saturday's loss to the Maple Leafs, the first-period explosion against the Bruins was exactly what the Capitals needed.

After Cooke's strike, Ovechkin finished a breakaway set up by Backstrom's home run pass. Ovechkin scored again 50 seconds later, firing in another Backstrom pass from the top of the crease.

Bradley settled a saucer pass from Cooke less than two minutes later and blasted the puck between Boston goalie Tim Thomas's pads to make it 4-0.

Bruins Coach Claude Julien replaced Thomas with Alex Auld, but it didn't help. Thomas had entered the night with an 8-0-1 record all-time against the Capitals.

Ovechkin sneaked back door on the power play at 15 minutes 31 seconds, and tapped in a perfectly placed crossing pass from Alexander Semin. Laich completed the first-period scoring with a second power-play goal, finishing a nifty centering pass from Viktor Kozlov.

Ovechkin said he didn't see his memorable performance coming, particularly after his rough start in the morning.

"In my morning skate, I couldn't even shoot the puck," Ovechkin said with a smile. "I hit Olie in the head. I was just a little bit confused. But then pregame [warmup], everything go in."

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