- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 27, 2008

Alex Ovechkin has scored 186 goals in his four-year NHL career - and there might be only one that was prettier than the one he collected Friday night.

Not only will Ovechkin’s sublime tally midway through the third period be a staple of highlight reels, it also proved to be the winner in the Washington Capitals‘ 3-2 victory against the Buffalo Sabres at a sold-out Verizon Center.

“It was very cool goal,” Ovechkin said. “I just made some moves. Puck was probably neutral, so I won the battle. I was tired and I just fell so I shoot. … You always want to do some crazy things. It was a great goal, and I’m happy it happened to me.”

The play started with defenseman Bryan Helmer backhanding the puck out of danger in front of the Caps’ net. Ovechkin tapped it past Buffalo’s Derek Roy and to himself near the defensive blue line to start a one-on-two rush. After the reigning MVP outskated defenseman Toni Lydman, Ovechkin put the puck through Lydman’s partner, Henrik Tallinder, with one hand on his stick.

To complete the transcendent sequence, which among Ovechkin’s efforts may be topped only by “The Goal” from his rookie season against Phoenix, the left wing slipped a shot past Buffalo goaltender Patick Lalime - while he was falling down with Tallinder’s stick lodged in his midsection - before following the puck headfirst into the net.

“Unbelievable,” Caps forward Viktor Kozlov said. “That guy is so strong, so hungry to score the goals. He scores amazing goals.”

Added coach Bruce Boudreau: “This was a determination goal. He got it, made a move and they were checking him and he was losing the puck, but he was just determined. It was like, ‘They took one away from me, and they’re not taking another one away.’”

Ovechkin thought he had a goal earlier in the game. With the Caps leading 1-0, Eric Fehr drew a hooking penalty. Ovechkin knocked the puck down seconds after the faceoff and ripped a shot from the left point past Lalime.

Brooks Laich provided a screen in front of the net, but he did his job a little too well. The goal was disallowed and Laich was sent to the penalty box for goaltender interference.

“That was a good call,” Boudreau said. “It looked like [Lalime was out of the crease], but [Laich] still interfered with him. At first, I didn’t think it was a good call - I thought the puck was by him, but we went in and watched it in slow motion from every angle. I came out and I told [referee] Wes McCauley he made a good call.”

Kozlov gave the Caps a 1-0 lead late in the second period when Nicklas Backstrom feathered a pass to him on the right wing and he blistered a half-slap shot just inside the far post.

The Caps’ roster continues to be in flux because of several injuries, but the team continues to produce victories. Despite being without nine players - including Brent Johnson (hip) and Tomas Fleischmann (flu), both new additions to the injured list - the Caps won for the seventh time in eight games and maintained their eight-point lead in the Southeast Division on Carolina, which defeated Atlanta.

Thomas Vanek left the game in the second period after dropping to one knee to block a shot from Ovechkin, but he returned in the third to notch the Sabres’ first goal on a one-timer from Drew Stafford. Caps forward Boyd Gordon, who netted his team’s second goal by tipping Milan Jurcina’s slap shot from the right point early in the middle period, complained of a hand pass before Vanek’s goal.

Maxim Afinogenov made it a one-goal game with 1:49 left when a shot that was going wide of the net glanced off his skate as he jumped in the air. It didn’t diminish the effort of Jose Theodore, who stopped 22 shots for his second straight win.

“You look at the clock and see there is [1:49] left for a big win,” Theodore said of Afinogenov’s tally. “That’s pretty much it. It isn’t really about goals against at this point - it is about winning games.”

Notes - Earlier Friday, the Caps recalled defenseman Helmer, forwards Alexandre Giroux and Andrew Gordon and goaltender Simeon Varlamov from Hershey of the American Hockey League. Gordon did not dress and was returned to the Bears. … Chris Clark made his return to the lineup after missing 14 games with a broken right forearm. To make room, the Caps moved center Sergei Fedorov to long-term injury reserve.

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