Alex Ovechkin missing chances to score an empty-net goal this season had become something of a running joke among the Washington Capitals. Coach Adam Oates would tease Ovechkin about it, his teammates would deadpan and drop the fact into their responses when asked about their captain.
In the 39th game of the season Sunday night against the Tampa Bay Lightning, though, Ovechkin made sure to skate all the way to the hash marks before firing into the wide open cage to seal a 4-2 Capitals’ win. The tally marked Ovechkin’s 25th of the season, tying him with Steven Stamkos for the league lead.
“I think he’s been missing five of them, at least, before,” Nicklas Backstrom said. “So it was good for him to find that empty-netter.”
On the CSN Washington broadcast, color analyst Craig Laughlin said Ovechkin had missed six chances to score an empty-net goal this season and the star winger knew he missed a few as well.
“Too many wasted opportunities from our team,” Ovechkin said. “I think this is our first goal in empty net don’t want to risk it.”
Regardless if Ovechkin had put the puck in the net, though, the goal would have counted. As Ovechkin made his way up ice and skated past the benches, Tampa Bay forward Alex Killorn reached his stick over the boards to try to impede the Ovechkin’s progress.
According to the NHL rule 56.7, Killorn’s obstruction attempt made the play result in an automatic goal for the Capitals.
Here’s the applicable text from the NHL rulebook:
If, when the goalkeeper has been removed from the ice, any member of his team (including the goalkeeper) not legally on the ice, including the Coach or non-playing Club personnel, interferes by means of his body, stick or any other object or piece of equipment with the movements of the puck or an opposing player in the neutral or attacking zone, the Referee shall immediately award a goal to the non-offending team.
“They actually made it a goal,” Oates said. “The ref had already called it, but he skated all the way in. The whole crowd knew, too.”