COLUMBUS, Ohio — The Washington Capitals have found many ways to secure comeback victories in the past 21/2 months, but last night’s might have topped them all.
Alex Ovechkin scored the game-winner but not before the Caps first erased a two-goal deficit and then overcame one of the strangest blunders in recent NHL history for an 4-3 overtime victory against the Columbus Blue Jackets at Nationwide Arena.
“Crazy game,” Ovechkin said. “That was sick.”
The win, coupled with losses by Atlanta and Carolina, moved Washington back to within one point of first place in the Southeast Division — and the Caps could take the lead tonight in Philadelphia.
It also meant the Caps still have not suffered back-to-back losses in regulation in the Bruce Boudreau Era.
The Blue Jackets took a 3-2 lead early in the third period on maybe the most unusual play of the season. Referee Bill McCreary, who has been officiating NHL games for 23 seasons, collided with Caps defenseman Shaone Morrisonn just inside his team’s blue line.
Rick Nash collected the puck and skated in alone on net to score his second breakaway tally of the night.
“It was a great hip check by Billy there,” said Morrisonn, who had slammed his stick to the ice after the goal. “I don’t know what he was doing in the middle, but everybody makes mistakes. Thank God we got the win, or I probably would have fought him.”
Defenseman Tom Poti needed 45 games to register his first goal with the Caps, but it came at a critical time. With the disappointment of losing the game because of the McCreary incident drawing near, Poti tucked a wrist shot under the crossbar to knot the score at 3-3.
Poti and forward Donald Brashear both put their arms up in celebration, but the goal was initially waved off and play continued. After the next whistle, the shot was reviewed, and the call was reversed with 6:53 remaining in regulation to set the stage for Ovechkin’s heroics.
“That’s the way it’s going for me offensively,” Poti said of the initial call. “I’ve had so many chances this year and hit four or five posts. I’ve had trouble scoring, but I feel like I am playing really well defensively.”
Columbus had the better of the play early in the extra session, but Ovechkin took a pass from Poti and used a screen from Alexander Semin to put a shot through Norrena for his league-leading 45th goal and 72nd point of the season.
“Semin do great job — actually it was his goal,” Ovechkin said. “Poti give me pass, and I just try to see what happens, and [Semin] give me space.”
After the Caps fell behind 2-0 in the first 20 minutes, Ovechkin and Semin struck less than five minutes apart to even the ledger. Ovechkin netted his first of the night at 13:34 in the second period with a wrist shot from near the top of the left faceoff circle.
Less than two minutes later, Caps forward Quintin Laing got tangled up with defenseman Jan Hejda and barreled into Columbus goaltender Pascal Leclaire. Laing was sent to the penalty box for interference, but Leclaire went to the dressing room with a sprained neck.
It took the Caps nearly three minutes to put a shot on his replacement, Fredrik Norrena, but Semin made it count. Viktor Kozlov sent the puck it front to Semin, who deked to his backhand and deposited his 13th goal of the season.
The Caps have struggled when presented with 5-on-3 situations this season, but last night was a new low.
Not only did Washington not manage to score on a two-man advantage that lasted 1:42, but Nash picked off a Nicklas Backstrom pass intended for Ovechkin and scored on a breakaway to open the scoring.
Backstrom and Ovechkin were on the points, and neither could chase down Nash, who slipped a shot through Washington goalie Brent Johnson’s legs for his first of the night at 18:16 of the first period with one second left on the two-man advantage.
It was the first 3-on-5 goal in the Blue Jackets’ history — a span of 547 games — and the first the Caps have allowed since December 1991 against Philadelphia, according to Elias Sports Bureau.
It didn’t take long for Columbus to pad its lead. Jason Chimera flipped in a backhanded shot on a rebound 41 seconds after Nash’s goal.
Michael Peca nearly made it 3-0 in the opening minute of the second period. The Blue Jackets had their own lengthy two-man advantage, and Peca had an open net, but Poti went to his knees to absorb the shot.
“Probably the save [was bigger],” Poti said. “It is tough to climb back from three goals down.”
Last night at Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio
“I know I don’t want them to play like a top line in the AHL; I want them to play like a top line here. No one can tell me when you watch Alex [Ovechkin] you think of him as a 22-year-old. When you look at him, you think of him as the best.”
— Caps coach Bruce Boudreau on his first line — Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom (20) and Eric Fehr (22) — being younger than many top lines in the American Hockey League
BY THE NUMBERS
105 Points for David Steckel during his four-year career at Ohio State.
900 Career NHL games for Capitals left wing Donald Brashear in 14 seasons.
— Corey Masisak
WASHINGTON CAPITALS AT PHILADELPHIA FLYERS
When: 7 p.m.
Where: Wachovia Center, Philadelphia
TV/Radio: CSN, FM-107.7, AM-1500
Goalies: Capitals — Olie Kolzig (18-18-4, 3.07). Flyers — Martin Biron (20-11-4, 2.63)
Injuries: Capitals — Out: RW Chris Clark (strained groin tendon), D Brian Pothier (concussion), C Michael Nylander (torn rotator cuff). Flyers — Out: RW Joffrey Lupul (concussion/spinal cord), D Rory Fitzpatrick (sports hernia), D Mike Rathje (hip/back).