Ovechkin's Hat Trick Sends Caps to Pittsburgh Up Two Games

On a night for transcendent offensive performances, the Capitals use an Alex Ovechkin hat trick and enough stops from goalie Simeon Varlamov to eke by three goals from Pittsburgh star Sidney Crosby at Verizon Center.
By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Before the start of this second-round series, it didn't seem possible that the matchup could possibly live up to the hype that had been heaped upon it, despite its considerable star power and the postseason history between two bitter rivals.

But after the Washington Capitals' 4-3 victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins last night before a manic crowd at Verizon Center, a tense, thriller of a game punctuated by hat tricks for both Alex Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby, that's exactly what's happening.

In what will likely go down as one of the best playoff games in Capitals franchise history, Ovechkin did what MVPs do: He scored his final two goals in the final 7 minutes 7 seconds to help the Capitals win a franchise-record fifth straight game and take a two-games-to-none lead to Pittsburgh for tomorrow's Game 3.

"It's good for the fans to see great players play against each other and two great teams play against each other," said Ovechkin, whose hat trick was the first of his career in the playoffs. "It's unbelievable when we play against great players and you win the game like this. If I was a Capitals fan, I'd be really happy right now."

Ovechkin broke a tied game at 12:53 of the third period on the power play. Nicklas Backstrom won the faceoff deep in the Penguins' zone, kicked the puck back to defenseman Mike Green, who slipped a crossing pass to Ovechkin.

Ovechkin then fired a one-timer over Marc-André Fleury's blocker to put the Capitals ahead 3-2.

He provided what proved to be the winning margin a few minutes later. With 4:38 remaining, he gathered Victor Kozlov's pass near the redline, blasted into the Pittsburgh zone, then rifled a shot past defenseman Sergei Gonchar and eventually Fleury's glove, sending the crowd into a frenzy and eliciting ear-splitting chants of "MVP, MVP" as hats rained down on the ice.

"The best thing about Alex is that he takes the level so high, and then there's another night that he takes it higher," said teammate Brooks Laich. "I was on the bench for all of his goals and I just look up and it's unbelievable. He's our leader and he's the difference in the game."

Ovechkin's third goal put the Capitals ahead 4-2. But it almost wasn't enough. Because Crosby managed to keep everyone on the edge of their seats with one more goal, this one batted out of midair past Simeon Varlamov with 30.4 seconds remaining.

But the Penguins never mustered another shot.

"That's why Crosby and Ovechkin are who they are," Coach Bruce Boudreau said. "Not too many people can do what they did tonight."

Crosby added: "It was nice to score but it's better to win. Obviously disappointed we lost."

CONTINUED     1        >

© 2009 The Washington Post Company