“The ice is good here, and the atmosphere is good,” Ovechkin said. “I get lucky here, too.”
Tom Wilson scored two goals, one of which was an empty-netter in the final three minutes, and Andre Burakovsky and Nicklas Backstrom each had two-point performances. Goaltender Philipp Grubauer saved all 16 shots he saw through 40 minutes but allowed two goals in the third frame, when he was pelted with 18 shots as the Wild had three power plays.
“Today, you can say thanks to Grubi,” Ovechkin said. “He was obviously outstanding, especially in the third.”
Grubauer is the only player without someone on the team’s annual mentors’ trip. But he knew his father was watching from home in Germany, and he slid from post to post and sprawled every which way to save the Capitals as they built up a lead on the Wild. Grubauer now has a .941 save percentage and a 1.63 goals against average in his past 11 appearances. After the game, a text from his father was waiting on him, congratulating him on an impressive performance.
“The guys made it pretty easy for me,” Grubauer said. “They boxed out. [Minnesota] always had net presence, I felt like, but the guys did a really good job of giving me the lane and taking away my sides, so it worked out for me.”
But it was Ovechkin who again stole the show here. His past two outings in the building have featured hat tricks, and he has scored at least one point in every trip here. Ovechkin got the primary helper on a snipe from Wilson that lifted the Capitals to a 1-0 lead in the first minute of the second period. That extended Ovechkin’s point streak against the Wild to 12 games, and it was Wilson’s eighth goal of the season, a career high.
Less than five minutes after Wilson’s goal, Burakovsky’s pass from the goal line reached Ovechkin just a few feet outside of his spot at the faceoff circle, and he wristed the puck past Wild goalie Devan Dubnyk for a 2-0 lead 5:51 into the second period.
Ovechkin’s goal has him eight away from 600 for his career, and he reached the 1,100-point plateau against Minnesota. He scored his league-leading 34th goal Thursday night, eclipsing his 82-game total from last season in just the 57th game of this campaign.
“I know when he’s dancing out there and all that, he’s going to get some points,” Coach Barry Trotz said. “He’s a productive player. . . . And he’s got a lot of points left in him.”
The Capitals’ first 40 minutes were encouraging for a team that has battled inconsistency lately. A disastrous second period Sunday against Detroit had Washington down by three goals before the team tied it in the third period to force overtime, when the Red Wings ultimately prevailed. Then on Tuesday in Winnipeg, the Capitals had a two-goal lead with 13 minutes left but gave up the tying goal with 15 seconds to go in regulation before again losing in overtime.
Holding a two-goal lead at second intermission, the third period presented an opportunity for Washington to compile a complete effort. Fittingly, the Capitals got a lift from a player who has been defined by inconsistency throughout his young career. Burakovsky skated from one end of the ice to the other untouched, perfectly placing his shot to beat Dubnyk. It marked his second goal in as many games, a relief for a Washington organization that had high hopes for Burakovsky this season. But the 23-year-old Swede has battled a thumb injury that kept him out of the lineup for 20 games and then poor play that made him a healthy scratch for a handful of others.
Nino Niederreiter’s goal cut the Capitals’ lead back to 4-2, but Backstrom ensured the result with a goal with less than five minutes to play, his fifth in six games.
“Our guys have opportunities, and when they have opportunity to shoot the puck, they shoot the puck,” Ovechkin said. “They create some chances, and I think we used most of them, so if we’re going to play like that, our goalies are going to save us. We’re just going to win games.”
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