He’s probably never tried it, but Alex Ovechkin could probably score goals from a phone booth. That’s about how much space the Capitals’ captain had when Nicklas Backstrom found him in the high slot for his game-winning goal with 2:40 remaining in the Caps’ 3-2 win over the visiting New York Islanders.
“He’s a goal scorer and that’s what we need him to do,” Capitals goaltender Braden Holtby said after stopping 24 of 26 shots for his league-leading 31st victory.
“He came through at the right time. That’s the way our team is. Every guy has a role and everyone seems to be doing it. That’s Ovi’s role and he did it tonight.”
Ovechkin rifled a one-timer past Jaroslav Halak before the Islanders goaltender caught sight of it, sending the Verizon Center crowd into a joyous welcome back celebration. It was Ovechkin’s first game back after serving a one-game suspension for sitting out Sunday’s NHL All-Star Game.
“He’s had to be the clutch guy – him and Backy – since he got here,” Capitals coach Barry Trotz said. “That’s not foreign to him and it’s a big weapon for us.”
It’s a weapon that, seconds before, nearly left Oshie on a stretcher.
“He should have scored right before that,” Oshie said. “I got in the way of his shot and it hit me in the leg and that’s why I’ve got to go get ice right now. That’s why I don’t play D.”
Thanks to Ovechkin’s late heroics, the Caps pulled out a victory that seemed to be very much in doubt after they blew a 2-1 lead and allowed the Islanders to tie the score 5:38 into the third period.
“When we’ve been down we go a little harder instead of getting down on ourselves,” said Oshie, who picked up a goal and an assist. “That’s going to be very important going into the post-season, being able to shake off those goals and come back.”
The game was an entertaining one, filled with emotion and big hits (48 of them) and was decided in the final minutes when, 20 seconds after Ovechkin’s go-ahead goal, the Caps were forced to kill a delay-of-game penalty on John Carlson, the final 73 seconds of which was a 6-on-4 disadvantage with Islanders goaltender Jaro Halak pulled for an extra attacker.
The Caps blocked at least three shots on that kill, with Oshie, Karl Alzner and Matt Niskanen absorbing three of the Caps’ 33 blocked shots on the night.
“They move the puck pretty well and they got us running around a little bit, me especially,” said Oshie, who finished with four blocks. “Usually, if you’re blocking shots you’re out of positon, but we’ve got guys in this locker room willing to go down and sacrifice the body, which is good.”
When pucks got through, Holtby was able to turn them aside, stopping 11 of 12 shots in the final period.
“I struggled with it in the first period and got lucky,” Holtby said. “But I got better and in the end I thought I was seeing it through traffic. Guys were getting in lanes. Six-on-four is a hard kill and we did a great job, especially up high.”
With the win the Caps remain the only team in the NHL that has not lost back-to-back games in regulation all season. They are 11-1-1 following their 13 losses this season.
“It’s our mentality,” Ovechkin said. “We lose one, we have to bounce back. We’re playing against teams right now that are fighting for the playoffs and they’re going to battle us because if you beat the best team you feel pretty good.”