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Alex Ovechkin returns, scores overtime winner as Capitals beat Bruins, 4-3

The Capitals’ Alex Ovechkin matched Mike Gartner for seventh on the NHL’s all-time goals list with his 708th on Saturday night.
The Capitals’ Alex Ovechkin matched Mike Gartner for seventh on the NHL’s all-time goals list with his 708th on Saturday night. (Toni L. Sandys/The Washington Post)

Alex Ovechkin lifted his hands in jubilation and yelled as his 708th career goal doubled as the overtime winner Saturday night at Capital One Arena. Away from the ice for 10 days while on the NHL’s covid-19 protocol list, the Washington Capitals’ captain didn’t wait long to get back on the scoresheet — and move up another notch on the all-time list.

After the Capitals squandered a three-goal advantage in regulation, Ovechkin’s snipe just 28 seconds into overtime gave Washington a 4-3 win over the Boston Bruins.

“He’s had an unbelievable career,” Capitals Coach Peter Laviolette said. “It’s the way he shoots the puck. The overtime goal is a perfect example: It’s just got momentum behind it and the way he slings it in there. That wasn’t one of his heavy one-timers; he got some speed behind it. He just let it rip. He’s done it his whole career.”

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Ovechkin’s overtime winner tied him with former Capitals star Mike Gartner for seventh on the NHL’s all-time goals list. Gartner’s No. 11 hangs in the Capital One Arena rafters, and Ovechkin’s No. 8 will join it before too long.

“Obviously he’s a star; he’s a legend over here and the whole league,” Ovechkin said. “So it’s nice to tie it and still a long way to go.”

After Gartner, next on the list is Phil Esposito, who finished with 717 goals.

Ovechkin, who skated 14:24 on Saturday night, said the first 60 minutes were tough after he missed four games, but he improved as the night went on.

Laviolette, who told Ovechkin before the game that he was going to try to keep his ice time under 15 minutes, said Ovechkin looked to be at his best in overtime.

“Yeah, it was fun,” Ovechkin said. “. . . Everybody misses playing. So it was interesting to see how I’m going to feel through the morning skate, from warmup before the game and in the game overall. So, how I said, we take it and move forward.”

Although they nearly let this win slip away, the Capitals (6-0-3) remained unbeaten in regulation and host Boston (5-1-2) again Monday night. After his team fell into a 3-0 hole, Boston’s Charlie McAvoy tied the score at 3 with 57.3 seconds left in regulation. Brad Marchand’s goal at 6:03 had made it a one-score game and put the Bruins in striking distance.

Capitals rookie goaltender Vitek Vanecek, making his sixth straight start, had 40 saves and kept Washington in the game. He improved to 5-0-2 and was tested early and often, with the Bruins focusing on shot quantity over quality. He made 19 saves in the opening period alone.

“He’s been unbelievable so far,” winger Tom Wilson said. “He’s given us a chance to win every night and more. Obviously a lot of adversity the first little bit here, and he’s been our best player every night, and we’re pretty lucky to have him back there right now. It’s starting to be the norm for him to make those big saves.”

Despite the Bruins peppering the net early, Capitals center Nicklas Backstrom opened the scoring with a slick snipe from the slot with 1:54 left in the first period. It was the Swede’s fifth goal, and he added two assists, including on Ovechkin’s winner.

“I’m just trying to play the game we all want to build here and how we want to play as a team,” Backstrom said. “I’ve been fortunate that I’ve been on the right spot, I guess.”

Trevor van Riemsdyk gave Washington a 2-0 lead at 5:22 of the second. The defenseman, who was a healthy scratch for the season’s first five games, scored his first goal with the Capitals on a point shot through traffic.

Richard Panik had the Capitals’ third goal, his first of the season, on a deflection on the power play at 10:03 of the second. Boston got one back with Nick Ritchie’s deflection on the power play at 17:32 of the middle period before Marchand and McAvoy converted in the third to force overtime.

“They tie it up late; you could crumble at that point,” Laviolette said. “[But] we win it in overtime. So it wasn’t perfect tonight — we need to be better — but through it all, with everything that’s going on with our group, we’re going to keep moving forward here.”

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Ovechkin and defenseman Dmitry Orlov came off the NHL’s covid-19 protocol list Saturday. Ovechkin and Orlov, who was a healthy scratch, had been in quarantine and off the ice for 10 days, a process that began after starting goalie Ilya Samsonov tested positive for the coronavirus.

Through contact tracing, officials learned Samsonov had spent time with three teammates — Ovechkin, Orlov and center Evgeny Kuznetsov — in a Pittsburgh hotel room during a road trip to start the season. Such gatherings are against the NHL’s virus protocols, and the league fined the Capitals $100,000.

Local coronavirus restrictions mandated that Ovechkin, Orlov and Kuznetsov — who were deemed high-risk close contacts to Samsonov — spend at least 10 days in quarantine. Kuznetsov and Samsonov remain on the covid-19 list, and there is no timetable for their return.

The Capitals also were without center Lars Eller and defenseman Justin Schultz on Saturday. Eller missed his second consecutive game with an upper-body injury after he was crunched along the boards Tuesday in a win over the New York Islanders. Schultz took a puck to the face Thursday against the Islanders and also is day-to-day.

Capitals defenseman Zdeno Chara, who was facing his former team, had a scare with 12 seconds remaining in the first period when a puck deflected off his stick and hit him in the face. Chara, one of the few NHL players who do not wear a visor, returned for the start of the second period.