Capitals win OT thriller over Penguins
Neither snow nor ice nor a three-goal deficit could keep Alex Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals from stunning their archrivals and winning a 14th straight game.
Ovechkin scored an arena-rocking hat trick and got the assist on the winning goal in overtime Sunday, and the Capitals kept up their pursuit of NHL history with a 5-4 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Mike Knuble poked in the rebound 2:49 into overtime after Ovechkin's shot hit the post during a Capitals power play, earned when Brooks Orpik was sent off for high sticking.
Washington's winning streak is tied for the third-longest in league history and three shy of the record of 17, set by the Penguins from March 9 to April 10, 1993.
Ovechkin's three goals gave him a league-high 42, pulling away from Sidney Crosby after the Pittsburgh star had tied him at 39 by scoring a pair in the first period en route to putting Pittsburgh up 4-1.
"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."
The Capitals trailed 4-1 late in the second period, but Eric Fehr poked in his own rebound to cut the lead to two before Ovechkin took over in the third.
The two-time reigning league MVP tried to redirect a shot, had the puck deflect back to his feet and wristed it past Marc-Andre Fleury with 13:09 left in the game.
Red hats flung to the ice
Ovechkin then tied the score with a backhander from the edge of the right circle after Nicklas Backstrom won a faceoff with 8:54 to play, making the sellout crowd delirious as red hats flooded the ice to celebrate the first hat trick of the season by any Capitals player — even though Washington is by far the highest scoring team in the league.
"Ovie was crazy. He was awesome. He took the team on his back and he carried us," said Fehr, who scored Washington's other goal. "That's what we needed, and he was wonderful."
Jordan Staal scored twice and Evgeni Malkin had two top-notch assists for the Penguins, who nearly pulled off the win despite a Friday-Saturday blizzard that paralyzed the U.S. capital with 60 centimetres of snow 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, making a midnight fast food stop in Maryland, before arriving in Washington at 2:15 a.m.
Boudreau wasn't about to shed a tear for the visitors.
"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 was packed by the third period — just in time to watch another Capitals rally. Washington has outscored opponents 30-6 in the third period during the winning streak.
The victory also gave the Capitals a franchise record with 11 consecutive home victories and improved Washington to 23-3-3 at the Verizon Center this season. Goaltender Jose Theodore extended his personal-best winning streak to 10, tying the franchise mark established by Pat Riggin in 1983-84.
The game included numerous penalties, including several 10-minute misconducts. 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.
Orpik was none too pleased about the penalty call in overtime, for a high stick on Alexander Semin.
"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."
Missed 1st-period chances
The Capitals have regularly fallen behind during the winning streak — the other team has scored first in eight of 14 games — but they were especially out of kilter in the first period Sunday, failing to capitalize on power plays and missing solid scoring chances by just a fraction.
Tyler Sloan committed the most grievous error, turning the puck over to Crosby with a lazy clearing attempt. Crosby intercepted the puck at the blue-line and skated in to beat Theodore with an unassisted goal nearly seven minutes into the game.
Crosby made it 2-0 — and temporarily tied Ovechkin for the NHL goal-scoring lead — three minutes later on a power play, taking a no-look pass from Malkin and beating Theodore one-on-one.
Ovechkin regained the No. 1 spot by himself — and pulled his team within a goal — in the second period, skating ahead of the field to chase down Jeff Schultz's two-line pass for a breakaway score.
But Staal scored on back-to-back shots later in the period, the second one after a steal by Malkin near the blue-line, to give the Penguins a three-goal lead.