RALEIGH, N.C.| Don’t look now but Alex Ovechkin is tied for third in the NHL in goals. His 20th came in emotional fashion Tuesday night as the game-winner for the Washington Capitals at the Carolina Hurricanes.
Ovechkin scored on a two-on-one with Nicklas Backstrom to give the Caps a third-period lead and celebrated by jumping into the glass. A few years ago that wouldn’t have been noteworthy, but his subdued demeanor this season has included more fist-pumps and determined looks than expressions of such unfettered joy.
“It was pretty big goal, you know?” the captain said. “I was just happy.”
Happy Ovechkin is productive Ovechkin. He’s got 10 goals and five assists during a nine-game point streak that launched him to among the league leaders. Right wing Joel Ward called it “beast mode.”
“He’s playing with some energy, it looks like,” Hurricanes coach Kirk Muller said. “It’s like most goal-scorers; they’re momentum people. If they get on a roll, they kind of build on it. It seems like he has it right now.”
Not just right now. Ovechkin on Tuesday became the only player to score at least 20 goals in each of the past eight seasons. That’s every season since the 2004-05 lockout.
Asked what that accomplishment meant to him, Ovechkin smiled.
“It means I’m back on track,” he said. “Every game I have pretty good chances. My linemates do great job. And when you score goals, you have that kind of confidence when you have puck on your stick, you can see it and you can feel the game. Shots [go] in and it’s always nice.”
Ovechkin knew it would be the Caps’ night when he scored his first, a goal late in the first period that coach Adam Oates called “huge.” It cut Carolina’s lead in half and showed players what they could do against a shaky Dan Ellis.
“After that shot I tell right away the boys, ‘We have to make the shots on this goalie. He don’t play confident,’ ” Ovechkin said. “It was good shots, but right away if we’re gonna shot, and more shots on net and traffic and it goes in.”
Two goals by Mike Green later and Ellis was out of the game. But Ovechkin wasn’t done, scoring on Justin Peters what turned out to be the deciding goal.
That tied him with the Pittsburgh Penguins’ Chris Kunitz and the Los Angeles’ Kings Jeff Carter for third in the NHL in goals with 20. Only the Tampa Bay Lightning’s Steven Stamkos (25) and New York Islanders’ John Tavares (23) have more.
“Eh, same old Ovi,” Backstrom said. “He has a little confidence, score a couple goals. That makes you feel good and that’s what I think he feels. He’s finishing checks, he’s working hard and that’s what I think is different right now, that’s why he’s scoring.”