- The Washington Times - Monday, December 29, 2008

On a night when the Washington Capitals bestowed Mike Gartner with one of hockey’s ultimate honors, it was the guy who will spend the next several years pursuing Gartner’s lofty career totals who led the current team to another home victory.

The organization put Gartner’s No. 11 in the rafters at a sold-out Verizon Center on Sunday night, and Alex Ovechkin scored twice, registering his second game-winning goal in as many contests in a 4-1 victory.

“I think everything that can be said about Alex - until he writes a new chapter next game - has been said,” Caps coach Bruce Boudreau said. “That’s why he’s the MVP and hopefully will be again.”

Brooks Laich collected a pair of goals, and Jose Theodore made 23 saves to win his third straight start. The Caps continued their dominance at home, improving to 15-1-1 at Verizon this season after winning the final six regular-season games here last year.

With the victory, Washington moved into sole possession of second place in the Eastern Conference, two points ahead of the New York Rangers and nine behind Boston.

Laich might have had a chance for his first career hat trick in the final seconds, but Ovechkin eschewed a risky cross-ice pass and deposited the puck in the empty net for his 25th of the season.

“It would have been nice to get that one, but it wasn’t a clear play, and the game was still in doubt,” Laich said. “We got back to the bench, and he said he was sorry.”

During a four-on-four situation late in the second period of a 1-1 contest, it was time for Ovechkin to steal the spotlight. He had nearly scored on a feed from Nicklas Backstrom seconds earlier, but this time he collected a pass from Milan Jurcina near the offensive blue line and streaked down the right wing before blasting a slap shot past Vesa Toskala - a la Gartner two decades ago at Capital Centre in Landover.

Gartner is second on Washington’s all-time list with 397 goals and 789 points. After being traded to Minnesota with Larry Murphy for Dino Ciccarelli and Bob Rouse, Gartner also played for the Rangers, Toronto and Phoenix.

His 17 seasons with at least 30 goals are an NHL record, and his 708 career markers are sixth all time. Gartner was inducted to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2001.

“I’ve only played one game here [with the Coyotes] and never with the Washington Capitals, so I was coming into a building that was in some ways unfamiliar,” Gartner said after the ceremony. “And yet halfway through my speech, I [was] just really comfortable that I was in a home environment. It was really a great experience.”

In pregame warmups, the Caps wore retro uniforms like their jerseys from the 1980s. Each player had a No. 11 sweater with his name on the back, and then the team switched to their regular white uniforms for the game.

Gartner, who said he wore No. 11 in honor of Buffalo’s Gilbert Perrault, was introduced by former teammate and current business partner Wes Jarvis, and video messages from past and present members of the organization played throughout the night.

“I’m not necessarily one to sit back and reflect on things in the past, but really the past few months have given me a chance to do that,” Gartner said. “Just to reflect on my time in Washington, and it was a fantastic time in my life.”

Niklas Hagman gave the Maple Leafs a 1-0 lead 14:23 into the first period. Mikhail Grabovski drove into the right corner and backhanded the puck back toward the slot. It glanced off a pair of skates before settling on the end of Hagman’s stick, and he snapped a shot through a mass of bodies past Theodore.

Laich knotted the score in the second on Washington’s first power-play opportunity of the night. He took a pass from Backstrom along the goal line, walked in front of the cage and stuffed a shot through Toskala’s legs.

He added his 10th of the season at 15:43 of the third for his first multigoal game of the year.

“I think I’m doing the same things,” said Laich, who has five goals in eight games after going without one for 10. “I’m working just as hard as I was before, just sometimes they go in, and sometimes they don’t. Right now they’re going in, and it is fun when they’re going in.”

“I am just going to keep riding the wave.”

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