Ovechkin 2, Laine, 1. Caps 3, Jets 2.
With two goals in Monday’s 3-2 overtime win over the Winnipeg Jets, Caps captain Alex Ovechkin became just the fourth player in NHL history to reach the 600-goal plateau prior to playing in his 1,000
th game in the league.
“We talked about this after the outdoor game,” says Ovechkin, who netted No. 600 in his 990
th career game in the league. “As soon as [the media] starts pushing it, it’s kind of annoying, but it’s your job. Finally it’s over, and now we’re going to talk about hockey and not about numbers.”
Ovechkin’s two-goal game gives him 42 on the season, one more than teenaged Jets phenom Patrik Laine, who scored for the sixth straight game and the 11
th time in his last 12 games. Laine has 16 goals on just 34 shots in his last dozen games.
Oh, and by the way, Evgeny Kuznetsov’s surgical breakaway goal in the final minute of overtime put a happy coda on the proceedings, giving the Caps a 3-2 victory and sending the crowd home with the memory of witnessing history as well as a Caps win.
“This morning he was really quiet,” says Caps coach Barry Trotz, of Ovechkin. “You knew he was going to get it done today. The great thing about Ovi is when he puts something in his mind, he was going to get it done tonight.”
In its first game back in town after a week in California, Washington had a strong first frame on Monday against the Jets. The Caps drew a pair of penalties in the fourth minute of the first, giving themselves a rare two-man advantage. They used the opportunity to forge an early lead.
T.J. Oshie won a right dot draw back to John Carlson at the right point. Carlson fed the puck across to Ovechkin, who threaded a wrist shot through Jets goalie Connor Hellebuyck from the top of the left circle for a 1-0 Washington lead at 4:35 of the first. The goal was the 599
th of Ovechkin’s NHL career, and the Caps’ first five-on-three goal this season.
Seconds later, a slashing penalty on Oshie wiped out the remainder of the Caps’ power play, and the Jets knotted the score just 23 seconds after the two teams started playing four skaters to a side.
Caps center Lars Eller turned the puck over to countryman Nikolaj Ehlers at the Washington line, springing the latter on a mini-breakaway. Ehlers beat Caps goalie Philipp Grubauer to make it a 1-1 game at 5:33 of the first.
Ovechkin netted No. 600 on a third chance opportunity during a goalmouth scramble early in the second period. After Hellebuyck stopped Ovechkin’s linemates Kuznetsov and Tom Wilson from in tight, Ovechkin took a whack that was blocked by Jets defenseman Dustin Byfuglien. The puck popped right back to Ovechkin, and Hellebuyck stopped that one, too. But the persistent Ovechkin wasn’t to be denied, and he knocked the third crack past Hellebuyck to lift the Caps to a 2-1 lead at 3:53 of the second period.
“I was pretty close, watching it,” laments Laine. “I was in a good spot, just behind him. I think, yeah, I was there when he made history. I can maybe watch that someday and show that I was there getting the minus on the ice.”
Both goaltenders were on top of their game the rest of the way, and they traded excellent saves until early in the third when the Caps lost track of Laine on the weak side. Paul Stastny fed him, and the Jets’ 19-year-old sophomore made no mistake netting his 41
st goal of the season to tie the game at 2-2 at 5:02 of the third.
“I guess I’m so invisible in front of the net that nobody saw me,” cracks Laine. “But yeah, I was pretty surprised that there was a lot of room. Stast found me with a nice backhand pass. I just tried to go quickly to the net.”
Among Hellebuyck’s best stops was a lateral robbery on Nicklas Backstrom after a perfect feed from Jakub Jerebek in the second period, a save on Ovechkin from the slot with seconds left in regulation, and a glove denial of John Carlson in overtime.
Grubauer made a terrific stop on Mathieu Perreault from point blank range, thwarting the former Cap on a timing play at the top of the paint near the midpoint of the game. The Caps netminder made strong stops on Kyle Connor early and Bryan Little late in the third to keep the Jets from lighting the lamp.
Washington had a power play opportunity early in overtime when Kuznetsov drew a slashing call on Little. The Caps pumped six shots on Hellebuyck during that four-on-three manpower advantage, but they weren’t able to solve the Jets goalie.
Kuznetsov’s game-winner came off a great defensive play by Chandler Stephenson, who got on his horse and made a diving backcheck on Little, knocking the puck off the Winnipeg pivot’s stick as he was trying to convert a two-on-one.
Kuznetsov collected and tamed a bouncing puck in his own end, chipped it past Byfuglien and turned on the Jets. He was out of reach before he even reached the red line; Jets forward Blake Wheeler in futile pursuit and well beyond a stick’s length away. From between the hash marks, Kuznetsov snapped a shot to the shelf on the stick side to give the Caps the two points.
Monday’s win enabled the Caps to stack up consecutive wins over playoff caliber teams for the first time in more than a month, since Washington swept a home-and-home set from Columbus on Feb. 6-9.
“It was a pretty neat game in the sense that you’ve got Alex and Laine,” says Trotz, “who are two of the purest shooters you’re going to find on the planet going head-to-head. And Ovi is still king; he is still the king.
“But young Laine, that’s one of the things I like about him. I saw a quite where he said [of Ovechkin], ‘Those are big numbers and he got the really quick. Those are the ones I’m going to try to go get.’
“I love his mindset. But until he does it, Ovi is the king.”
Sounds like Laine just can’t wait to be king. As for Ovechkin, it’s good to be king, if just for a while.
“Right now, I’m going to enjoy the time, go home and relax and just enjoy it,” says Ovechkin. “But tomorrow is a new day, and it’s back to work.”