NEW YORK -- Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin has been described in many ways throughout his 11-year NHL career. Graceful has never been one of them.
Seconds after blowing past Rick Nash with a burst of speed and using Ryan McDonagh as a screen to beat Henrik Lundqvist for the 499th goal of his NHL career, a game-winner 1:25 into overtime, Ovechkin slid across the ice on both knees before face planting into the ice in front of the Capitals’ bench.
“Blowing out a tire never looked so good,” Caps defenseman Nate Schmidt said.
Unless, of course, you are a Rangers fan.
Having seen their team rally back from 2-0 deficit to take a 3-2 lead midway through the third period, the fans in Madison Square Garden saw Nicklas Backstrom rip their hearts out with a game-tying goal with 7.5 seconds remaining in regulation.
Ovechkin stomped on those hearts with his second goal of the game and heard a cascade of boos as he left the ice following the wild celebration.
“If you don’t like the celebrating, then you’re taking the kid out of the game. That’s what makes him special," said Caps coach Barry Trotz. "Watch him celebrate when Nick Backstrom scores. It’s the same. He still has that child-type energy and enthusiasm. When us older people lose it we sort of lose a piece of ourselves. That’s what makes him Ovi. He loves the big moments and he loves to score goals.”
Ovechkin has spread that love 499 times in his career and now on the brink of a milestone only 42 other players have ever reached.
Ovechkin got the scoring started Saturday afternoon when Rangers defenseman Dan Girardi inadvertently passed him the puck for an open-net goal with 15 seconds remaining in the first period.
Justin Williams made it 2-0 in the second and with the Caps holding a 21-0-1 record when leading after two periods, their 31st win of the season seemed like a lock. But failed clearing attempts by Stan Galiev and Andre Burakovsky led to back-to-back goals by Oscar Lindberg and Kevin Hayes and when Viktor Stalberg made it three goals on seven third-period shots for the Rangers, it looked like the Caps were on their way to their first regulation loss this season when leading after two periods.
That’s when Nicklas Backstrom came to the rescue, jabbing a Justin Williams rebound under the outstretched pads of Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist to send the game into overtime with 7.5 seconds remaining in regulation.
“We were managing the game really well until we turned that one puck over and they end up scoring on that. It just gave life to them and life to the building,” Trotz said.
“I think it was good for us, though. We’ve had a pretty good string of holding leads and once in a while you’re going to lose one of those leads, How do you respond? We didn’t hang our heads. We got a big play by one of the clutch guys in the league with Backstrom in front scoring the goal and Justin Williams finding the area to get that puck to Backy.”
Backstrom’s goal, his 13th of the season, sent the game into overtime, setting the stage for two very big plays. The first came when Derek Stepan was stopped on the doorstep by the tandem of Holtby and Schmidt.
Stepan stepped around Holtby, but his shot smacked off the stick of Schmidt, setting the stage for Ovechkin’s bulrush.
“All I know is that Holts gave me a big hug and was like, ‘You stopped it!’” Schmidt said. “I was like, ‘I thought we both stopped it.”
Stepan saw it this way:
“(Holtby) was pretty much in my face so I only had one move. The D-man (Schmidt) made a good save and they go down and score.”
Ovechkin saw open ice and went from 0 to 60 in the blink of an eye.
“You think it's over but (Schmidt) stops the puck,” Ovechkin said. “I saw (Rick) Nash go to one side and then I used my speed to get to the middle. I made a move and put it in.”
And now Ovechkin can score No. 500 at Verizon Center, where the Caps return to action Sunday night at 7 p.m.
Trotz said it would be only fitting that Ovechkin reaches No. 500 in front of his home fans – and that Backstrom picks up the primary assist.
“Hopefully, No. 19 is passing him the puck,” Trotz said.