Normally, a Capitals-Winnipeg game in mid-March would not carry much juice. With two of the best scorers in the game on a collision course in Washington, however, Monday’s game suddenly became one of the can’t-miss matchups of the regular season.
In one corner was the 19-year-old scoring sensation, Patrik Laine, and a Winnipeg Jets team that has established itself as a legitimate Stanley Cup contender. In the other was Alex Ovechkin, the greatest goal-scorer of his generation, on the verge of 600 career goals and the Washington Capitals, locked in a race for supremacy of the Metropolitan Division.
Heading into the game, it was not Ovechkin who had the hot hand, but Laine. Laine had scored 15 goals in his last 11 games to pull even with Ovechkin in the Rocket Richard race for the most goals. Laine’s goal streak brought him up to 40 for the season, a mark Ovechkin had not been able to add to since scoring in the Stadium Series on March 3.
RELATED: CHECK OUT THE 3 STARS OF CAPS-JETS
Ovechkin has already established himself as one of the best players of all-time, but the Finnish winger Laine is a budding superstar in his own right. A big night in Washington could have represented a symbolic passing of the torch in which Laine took the mantle away from Ovechkin and declared himself the next great goal scorer of the league.
But Laine’s ascendency to the goal-scoring throne was put on hold as Monday night belonged to Ovechkin.
“Ovi's still king,” Barry Trotz said afterward.
After Ovechkin scored his first goal less than five minutes into the game, a second goal to earn No. 600 seemed like a foregone conclusion.
Even before the Capitals took the ice that night, there was a feeling in the air for many that Monday would be the day.
“I didn't have any doubt he was going to get the record tonight,” owner Ted Leonsis said. “The second goal was what I was expecting. He was just hungry.”
“This morning he was really quiet,” Trotz said. “He knew he was going to get it done today. ... We were all talking about it as a coaching staff this morning. He's getting it tonight, there's no question.”
Playing in front of a home crowd likely helped, but there is no doubt Ovechkin was fueled Monday’s matchup.
After morning skate, Ovechkin was asked if he Laine reminded him of a “young Ovi.”
“I’m still young” was the answer.
MORE CAPITALS: OVECHKIN HAS CEMENTED HIS PLACE IN HISTORY
Ovechkin did not wait long to put his stamp on the game, scoring from the office on the power play in the first period. The historic goal came at the start of the second period as Ovechkin fired three shots on Connor Hellebuyck in quick succession. Hellebuyck could only save the first two before he succumbed. Ovechkin would not be denied.
Laine would eventually get on the board in the third period, tying the game at 2. But just as this night belonged to Ovechkin, so too did it belong to Washington as Evgeny Kuznetsov scored the overtime winner.
The final score: Ovechkin 2, Laine 1; Caps 3, Jets 2.
Laine’s time will undoubtedly come. With all the talk around the league focused on young stars such as Connor McDavid and Auston Mathews, Laine has emphatically pulled himself back into the conversation with his incredible run of goals in recent weeks. His goal on Monday was the 77th of his career which is more than even Wayne Gretzky could manage as a teenager. The Great score 76 goals before he turned 20.
Laine grew up idolizing Ovechkin and has the talent to one day become an elite scorer like the Great 8. His time will come.
But that time was not Monday.
Said Trotz, “I love [Laine’s] mindset, but until he does it, Ovi is the king.”