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January 3, 2018
Ringing In 2018 – Washington’s first game of calendar 2018 was also its first game against Metropolitan Division rival Carolina this season. Tuesday’s game in Raleigh turned out to be a real barnburner with a few lead changes and offensive surges – each team scored three unanswered goals at one point – on both sides. 

Caps captain Alex Ovechkin has had a resurgent 2017-18 season, and he came up large late in Tuesday’s tilt. Ovechkin scored with 7:15 left in the game to tie it at 4-4, and then he won it for Washington at 1:57 of the extra session, beating Carolina netminder Cam Ward with a shot from the right circle to lift Washington to a 5-4 victory over the Hurricanes. 

Ovechkin’s late heroics rescued the Caps, who squandered a 3-1 lead. Carolina closed to within one with a power-play goal in the back half of the middle period, and the Canes netted the tying and go-ahead goals just 84 seconds apart in the front half of the third. 

“After two periods, I thought we were in pretty good shape,” says Caps coach Barry Trotz. “We obviously had that span of [just over] a minute where they got both of those goals. It was sort of self-inflicted, and then we got our tying goal on a self-inflicted [error] on their side. So it was a, ‘We’ll give it to you, you give it back; we’ll give it to you and you give it back.’ It was.

“All I can say is the one thing I liked about our bench – even though they scored two quick goals to take the lead – was that a bunch of guys said, ‘Hey, they’re not winning tonight.’ And I thought our response after that was pretty good. We got it tied up on a little bit of a forecheck, and a great play by [Nicklas Backstrom] over to [Ovechkin].”

For the Hurricanes, a team that started the season slowly but has begun its charge up the Metro Division standings ladder, letting a late lead slip against the division leader is worth ruing, because the Canes could have picked up a pair of points while leaving the Caps with none. Instead, they lose a point’s worth of ground on Washington. 

“Games go like that,” says Canes winger Justin Williams. “Yeah, good that we came back; bad that we gave it up. It was a tough bounce, and one of the best goal scorers made a couple of plays and won the game.”

Carbon Copy – Ovechkin’s overtime game-winner is the 22 nd of his NHL career, extending his own league record. It was also his third overtime winner of the season, and his second in less than a month. 

On Dec. 16, Ovechkin scored an eerily similar goal to earn the Caps a 3-2 victory over the Anaheim Ducks at Capital One Arena. In both games, Ovechkin stayed out on the ice on a prolonged shift. In both games, he scored late in the second minute of the extra session.

The goal against the Ducks came at 1:58 of the extra session, culminating a shift of 79 seconds in length. Tuesday’s goal against Carolina came at 1:57 of the extra session, culminating a shift of 91 seconds in length.

“It’s funny,” says Trotz of Ovechkin, “he was out there for a while and I’m there on the bench going, ‘Get off!’ because you’re going to explode. But he sees those opportunities and he has obviously that great release. 

“He has – I don’t know, it’s not really a stutter step – but he pulls that puck and sort of locks that goalie into whatever position they’re in, and then he releases it, and they can’t move. He has done that a couple of times. 

“He’s obviously got a fantastic release, but there is some deception in what he does. Obviously, he knows what he is doing. It’s the hardest thing to do in this league is to score goals, and he’s got a lot of them. We’re pretty fortunate he’s playing for us.” 

Ovechkin went into the third period of Tuesday’s game with no shots on net for the night. He finished with two shots on net, and obviously, two goals. 

According to Elias Sports Bureau, Tuesday’s game marks just the second time in Ovechkin’s NHL career that he netted the game-tying tally and the overtime game-winner in the same contest. He did so previously on Dec. 15, 2006 against the Thrashers in Atlanta. Ovechkin’s overtime game-winner that night came just six seconds after the start of the extra session, setting a Washington franchise mark for fastest overtime goal.

Sick Nick  – Backstrom set up Ovechkin’s tying and winning tallies, doing so on a night when his presence in the lineup was far from guaranteed. Backstrom was ill on Tuesday morning and did not participate in the morning skate. He was a game-time decision on Tuesday night after warm-ups, and he found a way to suit up and have an impact.

“Obviously Backy was a little bit under the weather,” says Trotz. “I thought Backy played a really solid game. Anytime you’re under the weather, the last thing you probably want to do is go head-to-head with a guy like [Carolina’s Jordan] Staal, who is a big load.”

Backstrom skated 18:54 on the night and picked up a pair of assists.

Missing Niskanen – Caps defenseman Matt Niskanen missed Tuesday’s game with an upper body injury. In his absence, John Carlson, Christian Djoos and Brooks Orpik all logged a bit more ice time than normal.

“I thought John Carlson was outstanding tonight,” says Trotz.

Carlson logged 30:51 on the night, a single-game high for him this season. Djoos skated 17:41, a single-game high for his budding, 32-game career in the league. And Orpik’s 22:28 is just a shade over his average of 20:53 per night going into Tuesday’s game. 

“Real good job by the [defense] corps tonight,” says Trotz. “I think John played 30 minutes with Nisky not in the fold there. Hopefully we’ll get Nisky back and get him healthy again, and he should be good to go.”

The Caps are 8-6-0 without Niskanen in the lineup this season, which means they are 17-7-3 when he does suit up.

Secondary Scoring – The Caps’ first three goals in Tuesday’s game all came from secondary scoring sources. Alex Chiasson got Washington started with his seventh of the season in the first frame, and Devante Smith-Pelly followed with his sixth goal of the season shortly thereafter. 

In the second period, blueliner Dmitry Orlov netted his fifth of the season – most among Caps defensemen – to give Washington a 3-1 lead, the only multi-goal lead from either side in this game.

By The Numbers – Smith-Pelly led the Caps with five shots on net, and he and Ovechkin each had six shot attempts to lead Washington … Smith-Pelly and Eller each had three hits to lead the Caps … Taylor Chorney, Dmitry Orlov and Orpik each had three blocked shots to lead the Caps … Washington has needed to play more than 60 minutes in six of its last eight games. The Caps are 3-1 in overtime and 1-1 in the shootout in those half dozen contests.