WASHINGTON – On the play that gave Alex Ovechkin his 50th goal, overtaking Sidney Crosby for the NHL lead, Washington Capitals linemate Nicklas Backstrom collected his 100th point of the season with an assist.
Ovechkin and Backstrom are the eighth set of teammates to reach those milestones in the same game, and first duo to do it since 1988. So who gets to keep the puck?
“We’re going to split it,” Ovechkin said Friday night after his two goals and assist in Washington’s 5-2 victory over the Atlanta Thrashers also gave him the league lead with 109 points.
How are you going to divide the puck?
“I don’t know yet,” the two-time reigning MVP replied.
That’s OK. Because as much as individual accomplishments matter, Ovechkin, Backstrom and the rest of the Capitals have a bigger prize in mind. That much was made obvious during the pre-game festivities, when NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly presented the Capitals with the Presidents’ Trophy, given to the team with the most regular-season points.
Washington clinched that status last weekend, meaning it will have home-ice advantage throughout the post-season, and keeps adding to its lead in the overall standings: Friday’s victory was the team’s fifth in a row and allowed the Capitals to tie a franchise mark with 30 home wins in a season.
“They’re a bit of a juggernaut,” said Atlanta coach John Anderson, whose club already was eliminated from playoff contention, “and we’re not the only team they’ve done that to.”
During the on-ice ceremony, Ovechkin shook Daly’s hand but never actually touched the trophy, explaining later that he was told there’s a superstition about it. Then again, that might have been a result of a misunderstanding: Team spokesman Nate Ewell said he told Ovechkin after the morning skate not to lift the trophy – because the bowl on the top is not attached to the rest of the piece.
At any rate, it appeared that Ovechkin did not even look at the trophy. Which is appropriate, because the Capitals have their sights set on a more significant accolade: a Stanley Cup championship.
“We just wait for the big things coming,” Ovechkin said.
As Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau put it: “It’s not the one we want.”
With one regular-season game left, at home Sunday against Boston, Ovechkin leads Pittsburgh’s Crosby by one goal, and Vancouver’s Henrik Sedin by one point – despite missing 10 games through suspension or injury. Neither the Penguins nor the Canucks played Friday.
Ovechkin joined Wayne Gretzky and Mike Bossy – pretty heady company – as the only players to score at least 50 goals in four of their first five NHL seasons. The Russian left wing’s career-high total was 65 in 2007-08.
This season’s No. 50 broke a 2-2 tie and came at the 9:49 mark of the third period. Ovechkin took a pass from Alexander Semin and, while moving to his right, snapped a wrist shot past goalie Ondrej Pavelec.
“It is a pretty big number, especially when I missed a couple games when I got suspended and got injured,” Ovechkin said. “You always want to score 50 goals, but sometimes you don’t have luck and sometimes you miss the chances.”
After scoring, Ovechkin raised his fists, then slammed back-first into the glass. He was mobbed by Backstrom and other teammates, while fans began chanting “M-V-P!” Skating over to the bench, Ovechkin paused to glance up and watch a replay of his goal on the overhead videoboard.
Moments later, when that screen showed Ovechkin sitting on the bench, he waved to the crowd, and most of the spectators gave him a standing ovation.
The Capitals trailed 2-1 before Ovechkin tied it at 16:04 of the second, taking a pass from Semin and winding up for a big slap shot from the top of the left circle. As the puck slid past Pavelec, Ovechkin raised his arms overhead, his stick in his right glove.
“His teammates tried to help him,” Pavelec said.
Backstrom wound up with two goals and an assist on the night, while Semin finished with three assists.
“Seeing Ovie getting his goals and Nicky getting some points, it was great,” said Capitals goalie Jose Theodore, who has gone a team-record 23 games without a regulation loss. “They are special players, and it was a special night.”
NOTES: Theodore earned his 30th win. … Evgeny Artyukhin and Clarke MacArthur scored for Atlanta. … Edmonton teammates Craig Simpson got his 50th goal and Mark Messier his 100th point on March 15, 1988.