By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, March 26, 2008
RALEIGH, N.C., March 25 -- Alex Ovechkin's résumé is getting awfully long for a 22-year-old who has played just three seasons in the NHL.
One game after becoming the first player in 12 years to score 60 goals in a season, Ovechkin got No. 61 against the Carolina Hurricanes on Tuesday night to set the Washington Capitals' season record for goals, breaking a mark that had stood for 26 years.
But almost as significant as Ovechkin's historic tally was the outcome: a 3-2 victory at sold-out RBC Center, clinched on Viktor Kozlov's shootout goal, which delivered a critical victory as the Capitals pursue their first playoff berth in five years.
"It's fun to score goals, especially when you break some records," said Ovechkin, who established a career high for points with his 107th. "A record is a record, but right now it's all about winning and all about team. That was a big goal for my team."
Because the game was not determined in regulation, the Capitals gained only one point on the Southeast Division-leading Hurricanes, who lead, 88-84, with five games remaining. The teams meet for the last time April 1 at Verizon Center.
The win did, however, help Washington keep pace with Boston for the eighth and final playoff berth in the Eastern Conference, which is beginning to look like its most direct path to the postseason. The Bruins beat Toronto, 6-2, and lead the Capitals, 86-84.
"All we can do is win," Coach Bruce Boudreau said flatly. "We just got to keep winning and hope for the best."
Ovechkin's milestone goal came at 9 minutes 41 seconds of the second period and put the Capitals ahead 2-1. He took a perfect crossing pass from Nicklas Backstrom, then pinballed the puck off the goal post behind Carolina goalie Cam Ward.
On Friday, Ovechkin became the first player in 12 seasons -- and 19th ever -- to surpass the 60-goal plateau in the 5-3 comeback victory in Atlanta. Now he is atop the franchise record books, passing Dennis Maruk's mark of 60, which had stood since the 1981-82 season.
But the lead Ovechkin gave the Capitals didn't last long.
The Hurricanes got their second fluke goal of the game -- also on the power play -- later in the period to send the pivotal game into the final period tied at 2.
The goal was credited to Erik Cole, who skated the puck into crease from the side of the net. He was leveled by defenseman Shaone Morrisonn and fell into goaltender Cristobal Huet. As the three bodies crashed to the ice, the puck slid underneath Huet.
After a five-minute-long video review by league officials at RBC Center and in Toronto, the call on the ice was overturned, and the Hurricanes were awarded the goal. Asked if the puck went in, Huet paused then laughed. "Yeah," he said with a smile.
"The first one obviously was not even an attempted shot," Boudreau said. On the second, "It looked like it probably went in, but there was no conclusive evidence."
Thanks to Kozlov, the Capitals overcame the two bad breaks to end a five-game losing streak in Raleigh, dating from January 2007.
After a few minutes Tuesday night, it was clear they intended to reverse that trend. The visitors were physical, solid in their own end and spent long stretches deep in the Carolina zone, peppering Ward with pucks from all angles.
But Ward was spectacular, making 13 saves in the opening 20 minutes, and Carolina got one of the flukiest goals you'll ever see in the final seconds of the first period.
Alexander Semin had just been sent to the penalty box for hooking, putting the Hurricanes on the power play when Jeff Hamilton fired a circle-to-circle pass. But the puck never reached its intended destination, and instead changed directions after hitting the skate of penalty-killer Boyd Gordon. With an unsuspecting Huet moving from side to side, the puck went behind him and into the net.
Semin redeemed himself early in the second period, flipping a cross-crease pass on the power play from a tight angle past Ward to tie the game at 1.
Less than three minutes later, Ovechkin scored his record-breaking goal.
Ovechkin received a surprise call from Maruk earlier in the day.
"He called me after the morning skate and say to me, 'Good luck,' " Ovechkin said of their conversation. "He congratulate me and told me, 'Don't stop, keep pushing the team forward.' "
In addition to setting another record, Ovechkin also had one of the most memorable shifts of the season in the second period. After giving up his stick to a Capitals defenseman who had lost his, Ovechkin dived ahead and cleared a puck with his glove. Then as he retreated to the bench for a new stick, he blew up Carolina defenseman Bret Hedican with the hardest hit of the game in open ice.
"I hope he keeps going, we need him big time," Kozlov said of Ovechkin.