With the Capitals trailing by one late in the third period, the 34-year-old captain rattled off three straight goals during an awe-inducing span of 4 minutes 24 seconds for his fourth hat trick of the season, a career best. Three of the hat tricks have come in Ovechkin’s past six games, and he is now on pace to score 61 goals.
“In less than five minutes, he took over the game,” Coach Todd Reirden said. “We win the game because of that. That’s what superstars do. We’re fortunate to have him.”
After being nearly invisible on the ice for the first 54 minutes, Ovechkin took complete control. His first tally came on his first shot on goal at 13:50, and he scored twice more over the next 4½ minutes — the final goal coming into an empty net before hats rained down from the sea of red.
The last player to score three or more goals in the final seven minutes of a regular season game was the Capitals’ Peter Bondra against the New York Islanders in March 1996.
Ovechkin has 698 career goals, leaving him two from becoming the eighth player in NHL history to notch 700. He has 40 goals on the season, having reached that mark for the 11th time in his career, and he reclaimed the NHL goal scoring lead.
He has 16 goals in his past 10 games, including three hat tricks. When asked whether he ever amazes himself, Ovechkin sheepishly said no.
“Not yet,” he said. “I’m still playing. Right after the year, yeah, I’m pretty sure my family and my friends are going to talk about it, but now personally I don’t try to concentrate about it. I’m just going out there and doing my job.”
He is on track to reach 700 goals in 1,140 career games, which would be the second fastest in NHL history. This season is also the second-fewest games Ovechkin has needed — 53 — to reach 40 goals. His fewest was 52 in the 2007-08 season — when he was 22.
“That sounds like a good year,” defenseman John Carlson said. “That sounds like a good year for the majority of the NHL.”
Behind their captain’s heroics, the Capitals (36-13-5) rallied to their 15th comeback win of the season.
The Kings (19-30-5) entered with one win in their previous seven contests (1-5-1). The Capitals were coming off an emotional, physical 4-3 loss to rival Pittsburgh, with Tuesday’s game an exception in a stretch of Metropolitan Division matchups.
The Kings weren’t giving the Capitals many opportunities, with Washington managing only 12 shots on goal through the first 40 minutes, which ended tied at 1. The Kings appeared to take control when Jeff Carter scored his second goal of the game with 8:37 left.
But that’s when Ovechkin took over. He notched No. 696 at 13:50 before scoring his second of the night off his own rebound 1:10 later for No. 697 and finally the empty-netter for No. 698 at 18:14 to give the Capitals a stunning victory.
“Give him a couple more years, and he’ll be at 800,” Kings Coach Todd McLellan said. “It’s that type of night where maybe you don’t see him a lot early and then bang, bang, bang — and it’s in the net and they’ve won.”
The game was all Los Angeles until Carlson tied the score at 1 with 12:35 left in the second period. He sneaked the puck past Kings goaltender Jonathan Quick under the blocker after a pass from Nicklas Backstrom, who collected a sweet backhand pass from Carl Hagelin from the opposite side of the ice. Carlson, who also assisted on Ovechkin’s last two goals, is one goal away from matching his career best of 15 set in 2017-18. Hagelin is on a seven-game point streak (three goals, four assists) — the first of his career.
Capitals goaltender Braden Holtby made 29 saves to improve to 20-10-4. The only goal he allowed in the opening 40 minutes was a blast by Carter from the left circle that beat him under the glove and over his pad with 4:57 left in the first period.
“I really liked his game,” Reirden said.
Holtby’s performance was encouraging for the Capitals, who recalled goaltender Vitek Vanecek from the team’s American Hockey League in Hershey, Pa., on Tuesday morning.
Rookie backup Ilya Samsonov was announced as day-to-day with an upper-body injury after he was hit with a high shot from Ovechkin at Tuesday’s morning skate. He went through some tests in the afternoon and was not cleared to play. The Capitals’ next game is Saturday against visiting Philadelphia.
Tuesday’s game also featured a tweaked look for the Capitals’ blue line after Martin Fehervary was called up from Hershey. With the trade deadline approaching, the Capitals wanted to take a look at the 20-year-old and see how his development is coming along.
Fehervary at first was teamed with Radko Gudas on the third unit, but as the defensive pairs were shuffled during the game, he got extended playing time on the left side of the second pair with Dmitry Orlov. Fehervary, who replaced Jonas Siegenthaler in the lineup, finished with 19:55 of ice time and contributed on the penalty kill.
“I think that his play warrants another game,” Reirden said. “How we do that, we’ll figure it out. . . . I thought he had a strong showing.”
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