Alex Ovechkin erupted for the third four-goal game of his NHL career on Tuesday night against the Tampa Bay Lightning, his fourth goal tying the game with just 32.4 seconds remaining in regulation. Coupled with a five-point night (one goal, four assists) from Nicklas Backstrom and Philipp Grubauer’s excellent 32-save relief effort in the Washington nets, Ovechkin’s electrifying performance helped the Caps dig their way out of a 3-0 hole for a 6-5 shootout win.
“We’ve been in this situation before,” notes Ovechkin, “I think we were down 3-1 against Detroit after the second period, and I’m sure everybody knows we have lots of time left, and we just have to take one at a time. The second goal by Nicky was huge, and we just felt we can come back and we can win the game.”
Mike Green kicked off what would prove to be an interesting first period for him when he was sent off for a double-minor for hi-sticking Tampa Bay’s Valtteri Filppula at 2:14 of the first period.
A mere 12 seconds after Green was seated, Tampa Bay’s Martin St. Louis ripped a shot through a screen from the high slot that beat Caps goaltender Braden Holtby for a 1-0 Lightning lead. The Caps killed off the back end of that double minor to keep the Bolts within their sights.
But Green wasn’t done sinning or sitting. He went off for tripping at 9:07, and the Bolts took advantage of the opportunity to double their lead. Seeing teammate Teddy Purcell with the puck along the left wing half-wall, Lightning rookie Nikita Kucherov drifted to the slot with his stick cocked. Purcell spotted him and fed him perfectly for a one-timer that beat Holtby to make it a 2-0 game.
The Lightning made it 3-0 just 18 seconds later with the first even-strength goal of the game. Washington was unable to corral a loose puck in the neutral zone, and Bolts right wing J.T. Brown collected it and drove down the right side on a 2-on-1 rush with Nate Thompson. Brown fed Thompson and the latter wristed a shot that went high to the blocker side past Holtby.
Oates went to the bullpen for Grubauer at that point. Holtby was dented for three goals on eight shots in 11:07 of work on the night, but he definitely deserved a better fate.
Just 35 seconds after Grubauer settled into the crease, Green went to the box again for hi-sticking, his fourth minor penalty in a span of five shifts covering just 9:28 of game time. Somehow, Green also managed to get a 10-minute misconduct tacked on, taking him out of action for the rest of the first stanza. Fortunately for him and the Caps, Washington was able to kill off that penalty.
The Caps rarely had the puck in the game’s early stages. Tampa Bay had the first 18 shot attempts of the game; Washington’s first was a shorthanded bid from Joel Ward that missed the net at 10:29 of the first. By the time Caps winger Eric Fehr managed his team’s first shot on goal at 11:56, Washington was already down three goals.
One of Washington’s bread and butter plays paid dividends late in the first. Immediately after the final television timeout of the period, the Caps set up for a right dot face-off in the Tampa Bay end of the ice. Backstrom won it cleanly to Ovechkin, who rifled it over the right shoulder of Lightning goaltender Ben Bishop to put the Caps on the board and make it a 3-1 game.
“It was a big goal for us, no question,” says Caps coach Adam Oates. “It got everybody going, and it gave the team a little feeling that we could maybe do it. It was good to get something and give us a little life to give us something to build on.”
Washington got its first power play of the game late in the frame, but was unable to pull closer. The Lightning owned a lopsided 28-11 advantage in shots on net in the game’s first 20 minutes.
Needing to chip away at the Lightning lead, the Caps benefited from the Bolts’ bad behavior. Tampa Bay’s Eric Brewer went off for holding Ovechkin at 4:35. Washington dominated the power play, hemming the Bolts in their own end for most of Brewer’s minor and finally cashing in with 11 seconds remaining in the penalty.
Caps slot man Troy Brouwer partially fanned on a shot, but Mikhail Grabovski was able to beat the weary Bolts to the rebound. He neatly dished to Backstrom, who was cruising in from his half-wall spot, and the Caps’ center beat Bishop high to the near side to make it 3-2. At the time of the tally, the two Tampa Bay defensemen had been on the ice for the full 1:49 of the penalty-killing shift and the two forwards for 1:22 each.
Tampa Bay restored its two-goal lead at 12:41 of the second. Washington’s Martin Erat turned the puck over at the Tampa Bay line, giving the Bolts a 3-on-2 rush opportunity. Grubauer stopped Ondrej Palat’s shot, but Tyler Johnson was right at the right goalpost to tap home the rebound.
With Tampa Bay leading 4-2, the game took a sharp turn in the late stages of the second. Lightning forward Richard Panik blasted Caps defenseman Karl Alzner into the boards in the neutral zone, incurring a five-minute major for boarding in the process. Given an all-you-can-eat power play at 16:31, Washington wasted no time in cozying up to the dinner table.
Seven seconds after Panik was seated, Marcus Johansson fed Ovechkin perfectly from his station on the goal line just off to the right of the net, and the Caps’ captain timed his shot perfectly to pull Washington within a goal at 4-3.
Just over two minutes later, Ovechkin and the Caps evened the game while Panik was still parked in the penalty box. Green and Ovechkin played a little catch, then Green set up Ovechkin from his office for his 11th power play goal of the season and his first hat trick of the season. More importantly, it evened the game at 4-4.
The Caps still had 2:43 of power play time with which to work at that point, but they were unable to bag another that would give them the lead.
The two teams traded chances in the third, but Tampa Bay went up top on a fine feed from St. Louis from behind the Washington net. He sent the puck in front for Johnson, who whiffed on a one-timer. But Palat was right behind Johnson to take the pass, and he fired and scored from the slot to make it 5-4 for the Bolts with 11:24 left in the third.
Grubauer made a couple of excellent saves late to keep the Capitals close as the Bolts buzzed for an insurance goal in the latter half of the third.
Those stops set the stage for Ovechkin’s last minute heroics. Backstrom took the puck in the right wing corner and funneled it to John Carlson at the right point. Carlson passed to Ovechkin, who launched a shot through a screen from the left point. The puck found its way past Bishop on the short side to send the contest to overtime.
“He is a pure sniper,” says Oates of Ovechkin. “I mean, the fourth goal with the ice conditions at that time, the length of the pass and the weight on the pass - that’s an incredible shot. It really is. That’s why he’s a superstar.”
Tampa Bay had six shots on net to four for Washington in the extra session, and Palat hit the post on one of the misses. Grubauer outlasted Bishop in the shootout to give the Caps the extra point and their fifth win in their last six games.
“Even when they got their fourth goal,” says Oates, “I still thought, ‘We can do this.’ And then they got another one and the guys believed. You don’t want to get to this position too many times because it’s not going to be easy to pull a rabbit out of your hat that often. We’ve been lucky so far. But it’s still an exciting game. It makes for a very exciting game.”
When it was all said and done, the Lightning were understandably miffed at a game they let get away.
“It’s frustrating,” rues St. Louis. “This is a team that doesn’t need much to get back in the game, especially if you put them on the power play. Everybody in the building knows where the puck’s going, Number 8. That’s his shot.
“Obviously we didn’t do a good enough job taking it away from him. When we were there, we didn’t block him. [He] scores four pretty much from the same spot. We did good things, but good things don’t mean much if you can’t close it out.
“This is a game we should have won. We had that game. A bunch of times we had that game, we just couldn’t close it.”
Climbing The Charts – Ovechkin’s first power-play goal during the Panik major was the 137th of his career, tying him with Peter Bondra for the Caps’ all-time franchise lead in extra-man tallies.
Two minutes and 10 seconds later, Ovechkin scored again while Panik was still cooling his heels in the box. That goal moved Ovechkin one ahead of Bondra, and it also filled out the 13th hat trick of Ovechkin’s career, tying him with Mike Gartner for second on Washington’s all-time list in that department. Bondra is the Caps’ all-time record holder with 19 hat tricks.
“Let’s face it,” says Lightning coach Jon Cooper, “you can’t leave number 8 [open]. He didn’t even have to work for his goals. He didn’t move on the first one, he didn’t move on the last two at all. If you are going to let that guy take shots, well, this is sometimes going to happen. That’s the disappointing part. We know where he is, we know what he can do. We just didn’t have a stick on him, we weren’t in the lane and that’s the troubling part.”
By night’s end, Ovechkin had scored his 26th goal of the season, most in the NHL. He has also tied Caps legend and Hockey Hall of Famer Mike Gartner for second place on the team’s all-time goal scoring list with 397 goals.
Gartner scored 708 goals during his career, sixth most in NHL history. He netted the first 397 of those in 758 games in a Washington sweater. Ovechkin has matched Gartner in a mere 630 games.
Ovechkin is now 89th on the NHL’s all-time career goal scoring list, and he ranks seventh among all active players in the league.
With 26 goals in just 29 games this season, he has reached 26 faster than any previous season in his NHL career. His previous best was in 2009-10, when he notched his 26th tally in his 32nd game of the season.
Ovechkin’s four-goal game was the third of his NHL career and his first since Jan. 31, 2008.
Five Spot – Backstrom recorded four assists and five points on the night, matching his single-game career bests for both categories. He has now had eight four-assist games and four five-point contests in his 444-game NHL career.
“He played a great game,” says Oates of Backstrom. “In New York the other night he had one of his best games and he just rolled it into tonight. He had a fantastic night as well.”
Backstrom also won 15 of 22 (68%) face-offs on the night.
What A Relief – Making his fifth NHL appearance (and third in relief) just two nights after notching his first NHL win in a 4-1 triumph over the Rangers in New York, Grubauer was very solid in stopping 32 of 34 shots he faced.
He is now 2-1 with a 2.22 GAA and a .940 in his young NHL career. Grubauer has now stopped 55 of 57 shots in 98 minutes of relief work in the NHL, spread over those three relief outings.
Unsung Hero – Accolades for Ovechkin, Backstrom and Grubauer are easy to dole out after this one, but here’s a salute to an unsung hero on this night. Caps defenseman John Carlson logged a single-game career high of 34:48 in ice time on Tuesday against Tampa Bay, a total that includes 23:15 of even-strength time.
Carlson was also on the ice for 4:41 of Washington’s total of 7:54 in shorthanded time during the game, and he skated 6:52 of the Capitals’ total of 8:49 in power play time.
The two teams combined for a total of 28 blocked shots in the game, and Carlson was responsible for a quarter (seven) of them. No other player had more than three.
Finally, Carlson picked up the primary assist on Ovechkin’s game-tying tally, teeing one up for the Caps’ captain to drive home.
Carlson now ranks second among all NHL defensemen with an average of 4:07 per game in shorthanded ice time. (Philly’s Braydon Coburn leads with 4:10.) Carlson’s overall average of 24:31 a night is 20th among all blueliners in the circuit.
Familiar Feel – The last time these two teams met was on April 13 at Verizon Center, and the Caps won that won 6-5 in overtime with Green getting the game-winner. Washington jumped out to a 4-0 lead in that game, and had to weather a furious Lightning comeback to escape with two points.
Tough Town – Bishop is now 0-2-1 in four career starts against the Capitals, all of them at Verizon Center. He has a 4.48 GAA and an .872 save pct. lifetime against Washington.
Him Again – St. Louis has been a longtime thorn in the Capitals’ side. He had three points (one goal, two assists) in Tuesday’s game, and now has 29 goals and 79 points in 73 career games against Washington.
St. Louis has a seven-game scoring streak working against the Caps, posting six goals and 13 points during that stretch.
By The Numbers – Washington’s 17-12-2 record is its high-water mark of the season to date … The Caps are 7-2 in shootouts this season and 10-2 since Oates took over at the start of last season. Washington has the most shootout wins in the league and has just one more regulation win (eight) than shootout wins … The Capitals have matched their franchise mark for shootout wins in a season; they had seven (7-6) in 2005-06, the first year in which the skills competition was used to settle games that were tied after overtime … The Caps scored three goals in the second period, marking the eighth time this season they’ve scored three or more in the middle frame and the 11th time they’ve netted three or more in any stanza … Eric Fehr led the Caps with five hits … Tampa Bay defenseman Radko Gudas led all players on both sides with 10 hits … Tampa Bay came into the game with a 13-1 record in games in which they scored the first goal.