A few years ago Alex Ovechkin dubbed himself “the Russian Machine” and on Tuesday night at Verizon Center he lived up to his moniker, putting on a sublime display of efficiency and pure goal-scoring power.
After his Washington Capitals spotted the Tampa Bay Lightning a three-goal lead in the opening 12 minutes, Ovechkin turned into a defiant offensive juggernaut, recording four goals, including one with 33 seconds remaining in regulation to force overtime, and made his mark on the record books as he fueled Washington’s 6-5 shootout win.
“You just get frustrated and especially when they score three goals . . . right away,” said Ovechkin, who became the third NHL player to record four goals in a game this year. “It’s kind of hard situation but it’s good for our team, we come back, we stick together nobody scream at each other we stay as a group and we win the game. It’s huge.”
Troy Brouwer scored the game-winning goal in the fifth round of the shootout, extending the Capitals’ winning streak to three games. It wouldn’t have been possible without Ovechkin taking control of a contest in a way that only he can.
It was Ovechkin’s third four-goal game of his career and his 13th career hat trick. He passed Peter Bondra to become the Capitals’ all-time franchise leader in power-play goals with 138 after scoring two on the man-advantage against the Lightning. Ovechkin also remains the NHL’s leading scorer with 26 goals — six more than Anaheim’s Corey Perry and St. Louis’s Alex Steen.
Ovechkin’s heroics were required after Washington got off to a dismal start. Trapped in their own zone, the Capitals were unable to record a shot on goal until 11 minutes 56 seconds had passed. No one struggled more than Mike Green, who was whistled for 18 penalty minutes including a 10-minute misconduct in the first 11 minutes 42 seconds of the contest, putting the Capitals at a significant disadvantage.
With Green in the box, Martin St. Louis and Nikita Kucherov both scored power-play goals, with shots from the high slot through traffic to put Tampa Bay ahead 2-0 at 10:49.
Eighteen seconds later Nate Thompson scored on a two-on-one with Green the lone defenseman back to make it 3-0 on the Lightning’s eighth shot of the game. Thompson’s goal resulted in Braden Holtby’s exit from the contest as Coach Adam Oates searched for a spark and turned to rookie Philipp Grubauer, who would finish with 32 saves as he captured his second NHL win.
“We shot ourselves in the foot every which way,” Oates said. “They get the third one and there’s still way too much game left gotta do something. Unfortunately that’s one of the options.”
The Capitals responded. After thwarting the last of Tampa Bay’s power plays courtesy of Green, Ovechkin put Washington on the scoreboard. It was a familiar tally as Nicklas Backstrom, who recorded a goal and four assists, won a faceoff back to his long-time linemate and Ovechkin snapped a shot to the far post before Ben Bishop (26 saves) could set up to make it 3-1 with less than six minutes remaining in the frame.
“It kind of gave us the life we needed,” Karl Alzner said. “We came in and we were talking about there’s tons of game left, just take it slow it will be fine. . . . We were happy we got that, if we didn’t get that it could have gotten ugly.”
In the second, Backstrom chipped away at the deficit further when he scored to make it 3-2 on a broken play on the man-advantage with a shot placed high above Bishop who had been diving to make several prior stops. Tyler Johnson upped Tampa Bay’s lead to 4-2 with 12:41 gone in the middle period but even then, the Capitals kept pushing.
Richard Panik delivered a dangerous hit from behind in the neutral zone that sent Alzner head first into the boards. Panik received a five-minute major penalty for boarding, giving Washington’s power play and Ovechkin the opportunity it needed.
Seven seconds in, Marcus Johansson fed Ovechkin on a back-door play for a one-timer that made Bishop little more than a pylon in a practice drill to pull the Capitals within one. A little over two minutes after that tally, Ovechkin scored again – this time on a one-timer after a feed from Green — to tie the game at 4, secure a hat trick and overtake Bondra in the record books.
He wasn’t done there, though. Ondrej Palat gave the Lightning the lead one last time with 8:36 gone in the third period. The Capitals were still trailing by one when Oates used his timeout with 47 seconds remaining in regulation, but out of the break a faceoff win by Brouwer and battles won in the corner allowed them to maintain possession. The puck was sent out to John Carlson at the left point who sent a one-timer puck across to Ovechkin at the top of the left circle. With one blast he tied the game once more and sent the Capitals on their way to a win.
“He’s a pure sniper,” Oates said. “The fourth goal, with the ice conditions at that time, the length of the pass the weight on the pass that’s an incredible shot. That’s why he’s a superstar.”