Ovechkin’s winning goal was a beauty of a backhander, and he improved to 34 for 107 (31.8 percent) in shootout attempts during his NHL career. After Ovechkin managed to slip the puck past Jets goaltender Laurent Brossoit, the Capitals’ Braden Holtby made the final save, stopping Nikolaj Ehlers before the Capitals hopped onto the ice to celebrate.
“Sometimes even I don’t know what I’m going to do out there [in the shootout], so I’ll take it,” Ovechkin said.
His final contribution of a meaningful night let the Capitals salvage a game they controlled most of the way. Washington scored the first three goals, but the Jets answered with three of their own, the last coming with 3:14 left in regulation. The Capitals were back to their bad habit of letting leads slip away, and other issues that had plagued them during a recent 1-5-1 slump, before Sunday’s win against Pittsburgh, had returned.
That victory was supposed to provide a jolt, and Tuesday night it did, at least initially. And the pregame ceremony was emotional as Ovechkin stood with his wife, Nastya, and had their 18-month-old son, Sergei, in his arms as they looked up at the videoboard. Blaring through the speakers to the sea of red were tributes from some all-time greats, who congratulated Ovechkin on his achievement. But Sergei stole the show, blowing kisses to the crowd and embracing his dad for little hugs.
“It was pretty special, but Sergei was on my shoulder so I [had to] look up and down all the time,” Ovechkin said. “But, yeah, thanks again for everything this organization did for me. It’s a pretty cool moment.”
Shortly after the ceremony, Ovechkin got the Capitals on the board. The 701st tally of his career, following his 700th on Saturday at New Jersey, came just 1:55 into the game. He connected with the puck as it was in midair, knocking his own rebound past Brossoit to give the Capitals the lead with his 43rd goal of the season.
“The number of different videos that they had, especially the one with his mom and dad, I thought that was an emotional moment for him. And for him to gather himself and continue to play and score the first goal, that made for a nice night, for sure,” Washington Coach Todd Reirden said. “Happy for him; he deserves it. The fans of D.C. deserve it, to be able to see that and witness that and take it in. It is a special moment.”
Goals from Jakub Vrana and Garnet Hathaway gave the Capitals a 3-0 lead, but a turnover by defenseman Michal Kempny late in the second period sparked Winnipeg’s comeback. The giveaway gifted the Jets’ Cody Eakin a wide-open shot that Holtby stopped, but the puck was loose in front of him and Ehlers put it home to cut the Jets’ deficit to 3-1 at 18:33.
The comeback continued with Kyle Connor’s third-period tally: He scored on a breakaway at the end of a Washington power play, pulling the Jets within one with 11:21 left. A few minutes later, the Jets’ Mark Scheifele made a strong move to the net against defenseman Dmitry Orlov, who accidentally guided the puck into the net with his skate for the equalizer with 3:14 to go.
“When we get that kind of lead, we have to manage the puck right, you know, and we should easily win the game,” Ovechkin said. “But, again, a couple of bad bounces, a couple mistakes, and it’s in our net. Obviously, [Holtby] today was unbelievable.”
Tuesday’s game also was winger Ilya Kovalchuk’s debut with the Capitals. He was acquired Sunday from the Montreal Canadiens for a 2020 third-round draft pick. Kovalchuk slotted in on the third line with Lars Eller and Carl Hagelin. The line had multiple scoring chances; Hagelin was robbed a few times in front of the net, and Kovalchuk was inches from his first goal with the Capitals in the second period.
That was a welcome sign for a line that has been stagnant this season offensively. It was used more as a shutdown line for the past few months, but the choice of Kovalchuk over Richard Panik added an obvious offensive element. Kovalchuk is not locked into the third line — part of his allure in the Capitals’ eyes is his flexibility — but the group’s early success provided reasons for hope with the postseason not far away.
“What I think [Kovalchuk] does for us is it frees up our other lines,” Reirden said. “He is someone that has the respect of the opposition every night now. Now they are concerned about matchups with him. . . . His résumé speaks for itself.”
In the first period, Vrana turned on the jets to make it 2-0 at 10:07 with his 25th goal, setting a career high. At 13:25 of the second, Hathaway scored his seventh goal of the season from right in front, ending a 24-game drought. It was the first time the Capitals’ fourth line had scored since Jan. 5, when Nic Dowd converted against the San Jose Sharks.
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