By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, April 10, 2010; D01
The night began with Alex Ovechkin accepting the Presidents' Trophy at center ice. It ended with the two-time MVP taking center stage in the race for the Art Ross and Maurice "Rocket" Richard trophies.
Ovechkin notched goals No. 49 and 50 and added an assist to lift the Washington Capitals to a 5-2 victory over the Atlanta Thrashers that was also highlighted by a milestone performance by his setup man, Nicklas Backstrom, who reached the 100-point plateau for the first time in his career.
"Before the game we talked about it, we said, 'Hey let's go, today is going to be our night,' " Ovechkin said of a conversation with Backstrom in the home dressing room at Verizon Center.
With his first three-point effort in 21 games, and second two-goal performance in a row, Ovechkin moved one point ahead Vancouver's Henrik Sedin, 109-108, in the scoring championship chase and one goal ahead of Pittsburgh's Sidney Crosby for his third goal-scoring title in a row. Ovechkin also joined Wayne Gretzky and Mike Bossy as the only players to post four 50-goal seasons in their first five years in the league.
Whether Ovechkin can hang on, though, remains to be seen. The Capitals host Boston in the regular season finale on Sunday, while the Penguins have two games remaining and the Canucks have one.
"The great ones . . . seem to come up in the bottom of the ninth with the bases loaded and needing a home run and they do it," Coach Bruce Boudreau said of Ovechkin, who skated on a revamped top line with Backstrom and Alexander Semin (game-high 11 shots, three primary assists). "That's one of the reasons that makes him better than the others."
Backstrom, meantime, notched his third consecutive three-point night and has 101 points, eight behind Ovechkin. The duo is the first set of Capitals teammates to record 50 goals and 100 points in the same season.
But the close friends have a problem. What to do with the puck? Ovechkin notched his 50th goal and Backstrom recorded his 100th point on the same play, a goal midway through the third period that broke a 2-2 tie and put the Capitals in position to collect their fifth straight win.
"We're talking about splitting it in two halves," Backstrom joked after posing for pictures with Ovechkin in the dressing room, each with one hand on the puck.
After Jason Chimera stretched the Capitals' lead to 4-2, Backstrom brought the capacity crowd back to its feet with his second goal of the night, and 33rd this season, with 6 minutes 55 seconds remaining to cap a special night on F Street that began with a pregame ceremony in which Bill Daly, the NHL's deputy commissioner, presented Ovechkin with the Presidents' Trophy as his teammates looked on from the blue line. Ovechkin didn't touch it. In fact, he barely looked at the 2 1/2 -foot tall trophy, which is awarded annually to the league's top regular season team. Before the presentation, fans were treated to a montage of highlights set to Van Halen's "Top of the World."
Boudreau had given Ovechkin orders not to touch it.
"It's not the one we want," the coach said. "Not that I'm superstitious or anything. But if you're not supposed to touch it, you're not supposed to touch it."
Ovechkin earned an assist on Backstrom's first period goal, which put the Capitals ahead 1-0.
Evgeni Artyukhin pulled the Thrashers even midway through the second period with a crossing pass that hit Brendan Morrison's skate in the slot before eluding José Theodore, who made 29 saves to improve to 20-0-3 in his last 23 decisions.
Ovechkin was then directly involved in each of the next two goals -- one for Atlanta and the other for the Capitals.
Less than two minutes after Artyukhin's fluky goal, Ovechkin fumbled the puck at the point on the power play and Clarke McArthur scored on the ensuing breakaway.
As it turned out, that miscue seemed to spark the star winger.
"I heard him in between periods apologizing to José," Boudreau said. "He knew he made a mistake, and he went out and tried a little harder."
Ovechkin scored his 49th on a one-timer from the tops of the circles to tie the game at 2.
Then, moments after Theodore made a big save, Ovechkin did what he does best. Semin got the puck to Ovechkin on the rush, and Ovechkin fired the puck around Backstrom and past Ondrej Pavelec (42 saves) to put the Capitals ahead, 5-2.
"I think it's getting there," Boudreau said when asked if his team was peaking at the right time. "But there's another level we can throw it up yet. Because I think in every game we've played, we get 17 players playing at their top, or 16. But we haven't had all 20 going."
Capitals notes: Boudreau rested No. 2 defenseman Tom Poti, first-line right wing Mike Knuble and fourth liners Matt Bradley and David Steckel. Milan Jurcina skated briefly for the first time since double sports hernia surgery last month. . . .
Atlanta's Colby Armstrong was in the lineup for the first time since receiving a two-game ban for elbowing Capitals prospect Mathieu Perreault on April 1. . . .
The Capitals became the first non-Original Six team to reach 120 points in a season and the second since the 2004-05 lockout.