Alex Ovechkin woke up Saturday morning trailing Philadelphia’s Jeff Carter for the NHL lead in goals and without his usual center.
He only needed 76 seconds during the third period to reclaim the top spot.
Ovechkin scored twice in the final period and the Washington Capitals survived a three-on-six situation in the waning moments of a 4-2 victory against the Detroit Red Wings in front of a raucous matinee crowd at Verizon Center.
“I think in the first two periods I didn’t have lots of chances, and I feel kind of sleepy,” Ovechkin said. “I skated around and missed the puck and was just a little bit frustrated. I had more chances in third period and I scored. You score a big goal and it helped me.”
The reigning league MVP broke a 2-2 tie with the defending Stanley Cup champions at 12:52 of the final period. Viktor Kozlov made a nifty move to keep the play onside and then fed Ovechkin, who slipped the puck between his skates and then snapped a shot inside the far post.
Detroit’s Ville Leino could’ve defended Ovechkin on the play, but he and Michael Nylander got tangled up, which gave Ovechkin room for an awkward attempt with the puck still in his skates.
Six seconds after Kirk Maltby went to the penalty box for cross checking, Ovechkin struck again at 14:08. Nicklas Backstrom - who was taken off Ovechkin’s line for this game - tried to shoot, then collected his rebound to the right of the net and slipped a pass through two Red Wings players to Ovechkin at the far post. He got just enough on his shot to record his 33rd marker, surpassing Carter’s season mark of 32.
It was Ovechkin’s 17th of the season in the final period, which is also tops in the NHL.
“Yeah, I saw him,” Backstrom said. “He was telling me, ‘I thought you would give me the puck earlier.’ I said, ‘Hey, I just wanted to try a shot first.’ It was kind of funny.”
Backstrom made another great play in the game. With the score tied at 1-1 in the second period, he stickhandled past a defender and drew a tripping penalty. He kept with the play and passed the puck while on his back to defenseman Mike Green at the top of the offensive zone.
Green’s blast, his 14th goal of the season, beat Detroit goalie Ty Conklin at 17:19 and momentarily gave the Caps the lead.
“I saw [Green], but it kind of surprised me a bit,” Backstrom said. “I was down on my back and I saw the puck. The Red Wings guy was coming at me and I just tried to get it to Green. It was a little lucky.”
Johan Franzen knotted the score at 2-2 less than two minutes later. With Alexander Semin in the box - his fourth straight game with a penalty - Franzen took a point shot off his body and backhanded the puck in before the Caps could recover.
It was the 10th straight game with a power-play goal scored against the Caps, but the penalty-killing unit improved. Detroit’s power play is the best in the NHL, but Washington thwarted six of seven extra-man chances. The Caps made some personnel moves with the unit; Ovechkin and Semin weren’t part of the main groups charged with playing a man down.
Washington’s penalty killers were put to the test in the final moments. Kozlov was whistled for hooking with 1:38 left and Brooks Laich for putting the puck over the glass 13 seconds later, so when Conklin went to the bench Detroit had a six-on-three advantage.
The Red Wings, who have lost a season-high five straight games and were without Henrik Zetterberg and Tomas Holmstrom, couldn’t score - in part because the Caps had five of their 25 blocked shots in that span.
“Our PK might not be that good, but we’re real good six-on-three,” coach Bruce Boudreau said. “It showed sacrifice, and that’s what I told the team at the end of the game. I told them we came together as a team. Everybody was blocking shots and doing whatever you have to do to preserve the win. It was nice to see.”