NEW YORK – Through a brutal first period, nothing suggested this would be the night Alex Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals would break out on Broadway.
The New York Rangers had a big lead, had already chased one goalie and then watched another ailing one head to the bench. Ovechkin had never enjoyed success at Madison Square Garden, and Washington hadn’t won there in nearly five years.
Then it all turned around in stunning fashion.
Ovechkin started the big comeback in the second period and netted the tying goal in the third for the Southeast Division-leading Capitals, who erased a four-goal hole and beat the Rangers – the Atlantic’s top team – 5-4 in overtime Tuesday night.
“They stopped playing hockey,” a jubilant Ovechkin said. “They probably believed 4-0 they’d win the game. They tried to play conservative, but we play a different way. We play a hard, physical game and take lots of shots. You see the results.”
It might not have been pretty, but it was a big win for the Capitals, who shook off a 7-1 loss at Philadelphia on Saturday and earned their sixth victory in seven games.
As unlikely as it was that Washington would win this one, it was even more shocking that Jose Theodore was around to backstop it. Theodore, who started only because Brent Johnson was dealing with a cold and a sore hip, lasted only 11:15 of the first period and allowed three goals on five shots.
Johnson finished the frame by stopping all three shots he faced and was replaced by Theodore to start the second. Ryan Callahan pushed New York ahead 4-0 with his second of the night at 4:48, but that would be it for the Rangers.
“I was looking at the goals in my head,” Theodore said. “The way the plays kind of happened, I wouldn’t do anything differently. I was just trying not to get down on myself. I was just thinking, ‘Do the same thing and it’s going to pay off.’
“In the second I made a couple of saves, and the confidence kicked in.”
Ovechkin, who came in with only two career points in six games at the Garden, showed off his MVP form with two goals and an assist. Shaone Morrisonn scored his first of the season on the only shot in overtime to win at 59 seconds.
The only other time the Rangers led 4-0 at home and didn’t win was in a tie against Philadelphia on March 27, 1979.
“We were looking forward to going into the (Christmas) break with two points,” said Henrik Lundqvist, who made 31 saves. “I definitely have to forget about this one and move on.”
Lundqvist allowed at least five goals for the third time in seven appearances, but Rangers coach Tom Renney absolved him of blame.
“There were two deflected pucks that were pretty tough to stop, and that bomb in OT,” Renney said. “Henrik played well. He was not a concern at all.”
Ovechkin tied it 4-4 with his 22nd of the season, scored with 7:22 left in regulation. He celebrated with an enthusiastic jump-slam into the glass in the corner.
Tomas Fleischmann and Viktor Kozlov added power-play goals in the third against the Rangers’ suddenly leaky penalty killers. New York had turned aside 32 of 34 short-handed situations in nine games before allowing two power-play goals in each of their past two games.
Chris Drury had three assists for the Rangers, but he turned over the puck to Ovechkin at the New York blue-line – giving him a breakaway that was converted into the tying goal.
“Whenever you have a lead, especially at home, you have to find a way to put it away,” Drury said. “We got loose with the puck and got away from the game plan.”
Callahan pushed the Rangers’ lead from 2-0 to 4-0 with goals in each of the first two periods against Theodore. Markus Naslund put New York ahead 3:38 in, before Michal Rozsival and Callahan struck 11 seconds apart midway through the first. Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau spent his timeout when it was 3-0 and sent in Johnson.
“The good thing is we were down 4-0 early. It’s almost better,” Boudreau said. “If we could get one and start believing … that’s all we kept thinking about in the room. If you believe, it can happen.”
New York, which won at Anaheim and Los Angeles last week before finishing its California trip with a loss at San Jose on Saturday, was seeking its fourth win in five games.
While Johnson was sick, Theodore seemed to be allergic to the puck early. He rebounded and finished with 21 saves on 25 shots.
“Sometimes the coach wants to give you the chance to bounce back, and that’s what he did,” Theodore said. “I was really lucky that I did have the chance to show character.”
Theodore, the 2002 NHL MVP, got the surprise start after a relief outing Saturday in which he yielded four goals on 15 shots in the third period of Washington’s loss. The Capitals were 0-6-1 in their seven previous trips to the Garden since Jan. 28, 2004, including six with Ovechkin.
Nicklas Backstrom assisted on the first three Capitals goals.
Notes: Rangers D Paul Mara played in his 600th NHL game. … Injury-depleted Washington recalled D Bryan Helmer and RW Andrew Gordon from Hershey (AHL) and had both players in the lineup. Gordon, who saw his first NHL game at Madison Square Garden when he was nine, made his NHL debut.