WASHINGTON – Three goals from Alex Ovechkin. Two feet of snow on the ground. One big comeback against a detested rival, with punches and name-calling added for good measure.
The biggest number of all: 14, the length of a winning streak topped by just two other teams in NHL history. What a Super Sunday it was for the Washington Capitals, who got a hat trick from their two-time reigning league MVP and made up a three-goal deficit to beat Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins 5-4 in overtime.
“It was what people pay to see, when the superstars shine,” Washington coach Bruce Boudreau said. “There’s tension, and there’s excitement, and there’s physical play, and there’s passion on both sides. That’s what hockey is all about.”
Ovechkin’s three-goal burst gave him a league-high 42, pulling away from Crosby after the Pittsburgh centre had tied him at 39 by scoring a pair in the first period. The robust crowd that braved atrocious travel conditions went delirious and threw dozens of red hats on the ice when Ovechkin tied the game with 8:54 to play, completing a comeback from a 4-1 second-period deficit.
The celebration reached another level when Mike Knuble poked in the rebound 2:49 into overtime after Ovechkin’s shot hit the post during a Capitals power play. Washington got the man advantage when Brooks Orpik was sent off for high sticking Alexander Semin, a call that prompted Orpik to call Semin “a baby.” The assist gave Ovechkin a league-leading 86 points.
“Ovie was crazy. He was awesome. He took the team on his back and he carried us,” said Eric Fehr, who scored Washington’s other goal. “That’s what we needed, and he was wonderful.”
Washington’s winning streak ties the 1929-30 Boston Bruins for third longest in league history and is three shy of the record of 17, set by the Penguins from March 9-April 10, 1993.
Want more numbers? The Capitals have set a franchise record with 11 consecutive home wins – the 1999-00 team had 10 in a row. Goaltender Jose Theodore (31 saves) extended his personal-best winning streak to 10, tying the franchise mark set by Pat Riggin in 1983-84.
Also noteworthy: 74 minutes in penalties, including four misconduct calls. Ovechkin threw probably the best punch, knocking Kris Letang to the ice and jumping on top of the Penguins defenceman, a bit of aggression that was deemed worthy of just a roughing penalty.
The final infractions were whistled against Orpik, who lashed out at Semin for overacting to get the high-sticking call in overtime.
“He does it all the time. The kid’s a baby,” said Orpik, who drew a game misconduct from the penalty box because he kept complaining to the officials. “He does it all game long. I’ve got zero respect for the kid.”
Jordan Staal scored twice and Evgeni Malkin had two assists for the Penguins, who nearly pulled off the win despite a Friday-Saturday blizzard that paralyzed the nation’s capital and forced the visitors to scramble to find a way into town.
With the nearby airports closed, the Penguins had to fly into Newark, N.J., from Montreal after their Saturday afternoon game against the Canadiens. The team then took a five-hour bus ride, arriving in Washington at 2:15 a.m.
The Penguins downplayed the travel woes, and Boudreau claimed the conditions actually affected the Capitals more.
“I think it hurts us worse,” Boudreau said. “We’re out shovelling all day and worried about people coming to the game and your family and how are we driving and all of this stuff, and your focus is not on ‘Hey, we’ve got a game tomorrow.”‘
Despite the conditions, the arena wasn’t far from full by the third period – just in time to watch another home team rally. The Capitals have regularly fallen behind during their streak, allowing the first goal in eight of 14 games, but they’ve outscored opponents 30-6 in the third period.
Washington hasn’t lost since Jan. 12, but it would have been sheer misery if the streak had ended against the team its fans dislike the most. Sure enough, the first part of the game had a similar feel to Pittsburgh’s Game 7 6-2 win that knocked the Capitals out of last year’s playoffs.
Crosby scored twice before the game was 10 minutes old. Ovechkin’s breakaway cut the lead to one in the second period, but Staal netted back-to-back shots to make it 4-1.
Fehr poked in his own rebound to cut the deficit to two before Ovechkin took over with a pair of goals in the third. The tying goal was a backhander from the edge of the right circle after Nicklas Backstrom won a faceoff, completing the first hat trick of the season for the highest scoring team in the league.
“They know they can score,” Boudreau said. “In between the second and third period, I said, ‘I knew you guys, you’ve come back and scored goals in the third period this whole year. There’s no sense in stopping now.”‘
NOTES: The Capitals improved to 23-3-3 at home. … The Penguins fell to 10-2 in overtime games. … Ovechkin is the lone player with 40-plus goals in every season since the 2004-05 lockout. Ilya Kovalchuk of the New Jersey Devils (31 goals) is the only player with a chance to match that streak. … Among the signs in the crowd on Super Bowl Sunday: “Who dat Caps?”