RALEIGH, N.C. — Alex Ovechkin pulled back his stick and struck the puck as it slid over to him, a blistering one-timer that has been his signature for 13 years. It’s a shot that, just like the player himself, has stood the test of time. It’s expected, and yet it’s so great that it can’t be stopped. It was fittingly how Ovechkin scored his third goal of the game, on the power play, to celebrate another hat trick, his second in as many games.
“Like I said the last game, when you get a hat trick, you don’t get it every day,” he said.
Unless you’re Alex Ovechkin that is. Ovechkin, whose gray hair has long been a source of pride, shouldn’t have 28 goals in 31 games. At 33, he continues to defy any logic in the NHL, increasingly a young man’s game. Yet Ovechkin seems to be playing some of his best hockey in his 14th season, unburdened but also determined after winning his first Stanley Cup just six months ago.
“I don’t have an answer for it,” Coach Todd Reirden said after a pause.
His Washington Capitals are benefiting. In a wild, back-and-forth game Friday night, Ovechkin helped the Capitals overcome a three-goal second-period deficit en route to a 6-5 shootout win. Forward Jakub Vrana delivered the winning strike, and goaltender Braden Holtby stopped five shots in the shootout.
It was another team win for a club that’s separating itself atop the Metropolitan Division, now holding a five-point lead over the second-place Columbus Blue Jackets. But when one player has scored 20 goals with eight assists in 21 games since the start of November, “it takes a lot of weight off everyone else,” said center Nic Dowd, who tallied three assists Friday night.
“If you have one player that scores six goals in two games, that’s a little more than most of us get in a whole season,” Dowd said. “It’s huge. He’s just a threat from everywhere.”
Ovechkin’s power-play goal 9:49 into the third period gave the Capitals a 5-4 lead, but Carolina was able to tie the game with its own man-advantage just four minutes later. A botched clearing attempt by Holtby resulted in a turnover, and Hurricanes captain Justin Williams capitalized with the tying goal, forcing overtime and ensuring that each club got at least one standings point.
Carolina had played in Montreal on Thursday night, but the Hurricanes seemed to have the fresher legs to start the game. They got out to a 4-1 lead because of their special teams; Sebastian Aho scored a shorthanded goal to break open a tied game in the first period, and then Carolina scored two power-play goals in the second.
But Washington managed to erase that deficit in the final eight minutes of the frame. Friday night marked just the third time all season the Capitals have had their entire forward corps available, shorthanded either through injury or suspension for most of the season. Right wing Tom Wilson played for the first time since suffering a concussion that caused him to miss three games, and he quickly rediscovered his scoring touch. He drove the net and took several whacks at the puck before finally getting it past Carolina goaltender Scott Darling 12:37 into the second period. Less than five minutes later, the Hurricanes’ lead was trimmed to one thanks to a familiar fount of offense.
Washington has endured more injury troubles this season than in any of the past four, but Ovechkin’s dominant play over the past month has more than made up for an occasionally thinned lineup.
Carolina’s Jordan Martinook scored just 47 seconds into the game, finishing a wraparound with a backhand, Ovechkin tied the game less than four minutes later. Defenseman Jonas Siegenthaler set up an Ovechkin one-timer from the left faceoff circle, and he scored to extend his point streak to 13 games. That ties his career best, which dates back to the 2006-07 season, Ovechkin’s second in the NHL.
“First shot, it’s a goal,” Ovechkin said. “Then you’re like, okay, you have 60 minutes, maybe you’re going to score again. But you never know what’s going to happen.”
Then with the Capitals trailing by two late in the second period, Ovechkin skated the puck into the offensive zone and held on to it, patiently waiting for an opening. Siegenthaler checked Carolina defenseman Dougie Hamilton out of the way, and Ovechkin skated up, faked a shot, then beat Darling to make it 4-3 with less than three minutes left in the period.
Rookie Travis Boyd completed the comeback less than a minute later. Since scoring his first NHL goal against Columbus on Saturday, Boyd has gone on a streak, and his tip-in of a shot from defenseman John Carlson gave him a goal in his third straight game.
In the end, the night still belonged to Ovechkin, as many have of late. Even as the visitor at PNC Arena, Ovechkin was cheered, and hats littered the ice in celebration of another hat trick. The images of him wildly celebrating with the Stanley Cup had gone viral over the summer, and many expected that he’d start this season in a hangover of sorts, perhaps unmotivated after finally winning a championship.
“He came back after winning the Stanley Cup, and he was ready to go from Day One,” Reirden said. “And he hasn’t stopped since.”
Now he’s on pace for his best season since he was 24, the age a player is typically in his prime. Ovechkin seems to have found his all over again.
“I don’t know what to say,” Ovechkin said. “I just try to do my job. Everybody try to score goals, and everybody wants to score goals. In this league, it’s hard to do that. I’m pretty lucky; I play with great players, and they set me up. I just have to do my job.”
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