WASHINGTON – Pleased about a 4-2 victory over the Chicago Blackhawks thanks in part to his two goals, Alex Ovechkin already was smiling when he walked past Brooks Laich and saw the red construction helmet his Washington Capitals teammate was wearing.
“What is that?” the NHL’s reigning MVP yelled above the locker-room din. “What is your hat?”
It’s symbolic of hard work, and captain Chris Clark awarded it Saturday night to Laich, who was credited with the tiebreaking goal in the third period after a replay review.
“I was trying to put a song on the radio, and I got flipped a hat and told to wear it,” Laich said. “It’s a neat little thing to do in the locker room and the players appreciate it when their efforts are recognized.”
Everyone recognizes Ovechkin’s importance – he did, after all, lead the league in goals and points last season. But Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau made sure to talk about contributions from others who helped overcome a 2-0 deficit Saturday.
“Showed our character,” Ovechkin said. “We know we can come back. It doesn’t matter what the score is.”
Boudreau heaped particular praise on the checking line of Matt Bradley, David Steckel and Donald Brashear, which produced Washington’s first goal.
Goalie Jose Theodore also got credit for hanging in there after quite a rough start to his Capitals career. First, he got yanked in the second period after allowing four goals in Washington’s season-opening 7-4 loss at Atlanta on Friday.
Then on Saturday night, Theodore allowed a goal between his legs on the first shot he faced, 26 seconds in.
“I just felt really bad for Theo,” Boudreau said. “I knew he wanted more than anything the start tonight, and I knew he wanted to redeem himself.”
But Kris Versteeg came across the blue line, wasn’t challenged by a defenceman, and made it 1-0. Then things got worse for Theodore: Jack Skille scored about 11 1/2 minutes in, chipping in his own rebound.
“Well,” Theodore said, “I was really not happy with myself.”
But he played well the rest of the way.
“We have so much talent here up front,” the 2002 league MVP said. “I made sure (Chicago) didn’t get more than two.”
After Bradley’s goal pulled Washington within 2-1, Ovechkin tied it about five minutes into the second period, gathering the puck back near Washington’s blue line, then moving in and using retreating Chicago defenceman Brian Campbell to essentially screen goalie Nikolai Khabibulin.
Ovechkin shot around Campbell and past Khabibulin, then skated toward a corner and jumped into the glass, slamming his gloves.
“Look at him and how he plays – he wins his battles. That’s why he’s a star player,” said Chicago coach Denis Savard, whose team fell to 0-2. “You want to be a star player, you do it every night, not just once in a while.”
With less than 4 1/2 minutes left and the game tied, Alexander Semin brought the puck in. Laich, knocked to the ice, somehow got his blade on the puck and tipped it past Khabibulin, who also was down.
“I couldn’t tell if it crossed the line,” Khabibulin said.
Ovechkin sealed the victory with 1 1/2 minutes to go, netting a slap shot from between the circles. He drew loud chants of “M-V-P!” from a sellout crowd of 18,277 – about as loud as when the hosts skated out for warmups about 40 minutes before the opening faceoff.
Closer to the game’s start, a banner was raised to the rafters to mark Washington’s Southeast Division title.
So accustomed in recent seasons to playing in front of a half-empty home arena, the players were greeted by a full house decked out mostly in red shirts.
“Fabulous,” Boudreau said. “They were ready to rock right from the beginning, and I’m glad at the end we gave them something to cheer about.”
Led – no surprise – by Ovechkin, but he had plenty of help.
Notes: G Cristobal Huet, who helped Washington make the playoffs then signed with Chicago as a free agent, didn’t play. … Washington has won its last seven regular-season games at home, dating to last season.