The Washington Capitals came back in spectacular fashion today from 2-0 and 4-1 deficits to defeat their bitter rival, the Pittsburgh Penguins, 5-4 in overtime. The team extended their franchise record winning streak to 14 games before a roughly three-quarters full Verizon Center, due to the enormous snowstorm that dropped 20-30 inches of snow on the region.
Alex Ovechkin registered a hat trick, giving him 43 goals for the season, and now leads the league in goals, points and plus/minus.
The Capitals are 17-1 since Ovechkin was named captain Jan. 5, and the two-time Hart Trophy winner has 16 goals and 19 assists during the streak.
Jose Theodore made 31 saves, and though he gave up four goals, made several exceptional stops late in the game to force the game to overtime, where Mike Knuble put back an Ovechkin shot from the point for the game winner.
Sidney Crosby and Jordan Staal both had two goals for the Penguins, but it just wasn't enough on this day for Pittsburgh.
This game had it all. Superstars scoring goals. Physical play. A big comeback. Frenzied fans that spent hours digging their cars out of three foot snowdrifts. National television.
"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."
There was even name-calling afterward. Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik, called for a high stick on Alexander Semin that gave the Caps the power play where the game-winner scored, called Semin "a baby," presumably for over-reacting to the stick in his face.
"He does it all the time. The kid's a baby," said Orpik, who was assessed a game misconduct after the game because he kept complaining to the officials. "He does it all game long. I've got zero respect for the kid."
Et tu, Orpik?
Washington's winning streak ties the 1929-30 Boston Bruins for third longest in league history and is three shy of the record of 17, set by the Penguins from March 9-April 10, 1993.
Much was made of the weather conditions, especially the Penguins travails, spending more than nine hours in transit. The team had to fly into Newark, NJ, then bus the remaining distance, getting to their hotels after 2:00 am Sunday morning.
But Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau didn't want to hear any excuses.
"I think [the weather conditions] hurts us worse," Boudreau said. "We're out shoveling 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."'
But both teams found a way to focus, and the show did not disappoint for the home crowd, which was very strong and very vocal, despite the conditions.
Pittsburgh got out to a 2-0 lead in the first on two goals by Crosby. The first was a gift by defenseman Tyler Sloan, who tried to clear a puck up the right wing boards, but the only player there to receive the puck was the Penguins captain. Crosby led a three-on-one attack, but never passed the puck. He held long enough for Theodore to commit, then put it past him to start the day's scoring.
The second goal was on a Pens' power play, as Evgeni Malkin hit Crosby with a terrific pass through the crease to take a 2-0 lead.
Ovechkin cut the lead in half in the second period, with his first goal of the day. He took a long breakout pass from Jeff Schultz and snapped it past Marc-Andre Fleury on a breakaway.
Staal then got a pair less than two minutes apart, and things looked ugly for the home side, trailing 4-1 to the defending Stanley Cup champions.
But Eric Fehr made an outstanding individual effort, as he streaked in on the left wing, got a shot off on Fleury, then followed it up, tipping the loose puck through the goalie to halve the lead right before intermission.
"I've been struggling a little bit so I just wanted to put the puck to the net and crash it as hard as I could and look for a rebound there and I got a lucky break there and it went in," Fehr said about his effort.
As they have done so often during the winning streak, the Capitals had the better of play in the third period. Tonight, it was Ovechkin that carried the day.
He tallied on a backhander past Fleury at 6:51, then later scored on a wicked slap shot off a faceoff win by Nicklas Backstrom.
The Capitals have outscored opponents 30-6 in the third period during the streak.
"You can tell when he's having one of his days, and when he's having one of his days," Coach Bruce Boudreau said of Ovechkin.
Definitely one of Ovechkin's days.
The 'Great Eight' almost collected a fourth goal in overtime, as his shot from the point rang off the post. But it bounced right to Knuble who banged it underneath Fleury for the game winner.
"I didn't really know it went in," Knuble said. "I thought they were blowing the horn from when Alex's hit the inside of the post. I didn't really see the puck cross the line."
Knuble completed the second "Gordie Howe Hat Trick" of the season for the Caps (goal, assist, fight), as he assisted on Ovechkin's last goal and had a fight in the first period. He was sticking up for his captain, who was unceremoniously dumped into the boards (sans penalty, of course) by Craig Adams.
So we saw a little bit of everything today. But what we really saw was a team that willed themselves to victory after a rough start on a day they very easily could have folder their tents and just said "It's not our day."
But since Ovechkin was named captain, every day has been the Caps' day.