His first goal — a snap shot set up by a long pass from Nicklas Backstrom — was the game's first score and stood as the Capitals' lone goal entering the third period, by which point they were down 4-1 at Nassau Coliseum. His second, early in the third (a contested backhand that deflected off a defenseman), trimmed the deficit to 4-3 and moved him past Hall of Famer Mario Lemieux on the NHL's all-time list.
Ovechkin knew he had one more in him.
With the Islanders pushing for an equalizer in the final minute, he found the empty net from just across the center line for career goal No. 692, tying him with Steve Yzerman for ninth.
On the ice for 23:19, he scored two goals in his 8:57 of ice time in the final period as the Capitals improved to an NHL-best 33-11-5.
“I thought he was outstanding all night, and I just played him every other shift in the third,” Capitals Coach Todd Reirden said of his captain, who has 34 goals this season. “I felt he was going. He was all in. He has been in a really good place the last three games . . . phenomenal. He was going, and we needed to get him out there. Really strong leadership from him.”
Ovechkin, 34, has eight goals over his past three games and is perhaps as hot as he has ever been as his team heads into the all-star break.
This marks the first time in his career he has scored multiple goals in three straight games.
“I just left out there everything I had because I have a week off and, you know, now it is time to regroup and get ready for the second half of the year,” Ovechkin said.
Although he was voted captain of the Metropolitan Division team by fans, Ovechkin has opted to skip next weekend’s All-Star Game, earning a one-game suspension from the league. His next game for the Capitals is set to be Jan. 29, when Washington hosts Nashville.
This is the third time in his career that he has scored hat tricks in back-to-back games. The only other players in NHL history who have done that more than twice are Wayne Gretzky (three times) and Joe Malone (four times). Ovechkin also has more hat tricks (26) than four NHL teams since he entered the league.
Next up on the all-time goals list is Mark Messier (694). Passing Lemieux was extra special to Ovechkin, who said the Pittsburgh Penguins icon was one of his idols growing up. Though it was in a different era, it took Lemieux 915 games to reach his total. Ovechkin required 1,133.
Milestones aside, not much came easy for the Capitals on Saturday. After Ovechkin’s goal trimmed their deficit to 4-3, they fought for an equalizer. It finally came when Tom Wilson redirected a puck in front off Dmitry Orlov’s point shot with 5:28 left.
Three minutes later, Jakub Vrana completed the comeback, with Ovechkin’s empty-netter a sweet capper. The goals were Wilson’s 14th and Vrana’s 22nd.
“We were not leaving this building without at least 20 minutes being all in, everything you got,” Reirden said. “You got a full week to rest; let’s just leave it all out there and see what happens.”
Goaltender Ilya Samsonov earned the win in relief of Braden Holtby, who was pulled after allowing four goals on 22 shots through two periods. It was Samsonov’s 10th straight win, and it made him the first rookie goaltender in league history to win his first nine road games.
Samsonov is 15-2-1. Holtby, meanwhile, was pulled for the third time.
“Just a change in momentum, and sometimes when you have to do something like that, too, it sends a message to the room that we are not done here,” Reirden said of his decision to pull Holtby.
Ovechkin said there was a certain mind-set entering the third period.
“Everybody was kind of pissed off, but it’s the good thing about this group of guys,” Ovechkin said. “We never give up. It doesn’t matter what the score is.”
By the time Devon Toews beat Holtby five-hole at 17:25 of the second period, the score was 4-1 in favor of the hosts. Toews was left alone in front after a Capitals breakdown in the defensive zone, and he celebrated by doing Evgeny Kuznetsov’s signature bird celebration.
The Capitals noticed.
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