You can pick Sydney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin or Pavel Datsyuk or any other NHL player and I’ll take Alexander Ovechkin over any of them every single time. The reigning NHL MVP once again put on a show scoring two goals and added an assist as the Washington Capitals stormed back from a 4-0 second period deficit to defeat and STUN the New York Rangers, 5-4, in overtime. This Caps win was one for the ages as the comeback ended Washington’s seven game losing streak at Madison Square Garden and will now be dubbed “The Miracle on 34th Street” by Caps fans. Ovechkin’s goal to tie the game with under eight minutes left was a thing of beauty as the Great #8 stole a Rangers clear out of the air at the New York blueline, split the two Rangers defensemen, broke in alone on goalie Henrik Lundqvist – who is one of the best in the league on breakaways – and deked the NY goaltender to the ice and deposited the puck on his forehand into the net. Ovechkin then did his signature jump into the glass and suddenly what at one time looked like a repeat of the Flyers debacle on Saturday had Washington thinking it could win the game.
After a scoreless final seven minutes the game then went to overtime and 26’s were wild as defensemen Shaone Morrisonn, who wears #26, scored the game winner on his 26th birthday with a blast past Lundqvist at 59 seconds to send Washington home victorious. This was Morrisonn’s first goal of the season and it could not have come at a better time. After the game winner Morrisonn was swarmed by his teammates as an exuberant bunch celebrated by piling on the birthday boy.
This contest started horribly for Washington, who were once again playing without front line players Mike Green, Tom Poti, Sergei Fedorov, and Alexander Semin, and apparently the only reason Jose Theodore was given the start in net was because Brent Johnson is injured and is reportedly fighting a cold. Theodore would give up three goals in the first 11 minutes, two of which were definitely not his fault, before Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau called a timeout and berated his team and then inserted Johnson to try and get his crew to wake up (Johnson would only face three shots in those eight plus minutes). From there on out the Caps started skating and at the start of the second period Boudreau re-inserted Theodore into the net, which was definitely an indication that Johnson is still hurting. After giving up the fourth goal to Ryan Callahan on a breakaway that put the Blueshirts up by four goals, Jose shut the door the rest of the way and his biggest save of the game came with the Rangers up 4-2 in the third period as he made a great glove save on Nikolai Zherdev when the Ranger appeared to have an easy goal. In his post game news conference Boudreau pointed to that save as the one that helped give the Washington players hope that they could come back.
The Caps, under Boudreau, have a history of coming back from deficits to win games. They did this several times last season and they had already rallied from a 3-0 deficit in Pittsburgh to win 4-3 at the Igloo earlier in the season. But most of those wins were with a close to healthy team. Tonight the Caps had to comeback with a depleted lineup, including four defensemen who started the season in Hershey, against one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference and that shows how resilient this Caps team is and should remind us how they are rarely out of a contest when trailing. Ovechkin, who deserves a lot of the credit for Washington’s ability to rally when most teams would pack it in for the night, is one of those guys that when you watch him on a shift you have no idea if the Caps are winning or losing 5-1 because he never quits and is always going 100%. The Great #8 had 12 shots in the loss to the Flyers on Saturday but never stopped skating and his persistence tonight, even when the Caps were down 4-0, paid off as his seemingly harmless shot from the left wing boards hit a Ranger on the way to the New York goal and found its way into the net for a Caps first tally that seemed to rattle Lundqvist and New York. Hockey coaches often say “Good things happen when you shoot” and that goal showed why that is true and from there on out it was all Washington en route to the thrilling OT victory.
This win pushed the Caps record to 21-11-3 good for 45 points and they once again have an eight point lead on the second place Carolina Hurricanes in the Southeast Division. The Canes lost, 3-2, in Minnesota tonight and the third place Florida Panthers won, 3-0, at home against Nashville. The Panthers have 36 points but have two games in hand on both the Caps and Canes.
The Caps, as well as the entire NHL, will now take two days off for the Christmas break before returning to host the Buffalo Sabres on Friday night at the Verizon Center.
Notes: The Caps outshot the Rangers 36-28. Ovechkin had 13 shots on goal, had 7 other missed shots, and four hits in 22 minutes of ice time. Karl Alzner and Milan Jurcina, who are now a regular defensive pairing, were each -3 on the evening but Boudreau did not stop playing Alzner, who led Caps defensemen with 21:28 of ice time. The Rangers first goal was the result of forward Tomas Fleischmann failing to back check properly and he is now a team worst -11 on the season, although he did notch his 12th goal of the year on a power play (the Caps 2nd goal of the night early in the third period). The Caps have two games in hand on the Rangers and trail them by only two points for second place in the Eastern Conference, however, the red hot Flyers also have 45 points and have a game in hand on Washington and three on the Blueshirts. The Boston Bruins continue to lead the Eastern Conference with a staggering 54 points (25-5-4) and they knocked off the New Jersey Devils, 2-0, on Tuesday night.