RALEIGH, N.C. – When the Washington Capitals raised four straight Southeast Division champions banners to the rafters of Verizon Center, Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Mike Green and Alexander Semin led the charge.
Semin is gone to the Carolina Hurricanes, and the rest of the “Young Guns” are a little older now but still dangerous when they’re on like they were Tuesday night. Ovechkin, Backstrom and Green, the Caps’ three highest-paid players, were also their best players in a 5-3 victory over the Hurricanes at PNC Arena that cut the division deficit to two points.
It had a flashback feeling.
“You mean the good old days?” Backstrom said. “Yeah well obviously it’s good, we’re working hard out there. We move the puck well, that’s a big key, I think, for success and that’s what we’ve got to keep doing.”
It felt like the “good old days” as Ovechkin, Backstrom and Green combined for nine points. Ovechkin reached 20 goals in a season for the eighth straight year, and Backstrom had his first four-assist game since Nov. 11, 2010. This was Green’s first two-goal game since Oct. 22, 2011.
“It’s obviously huge for those guys to just play the way that they did,” center Jay Beagle said. “We need them playing like that from here on out in every game. It’s obviously fun to watch. It’s something.”
It’s something that the Caps relied on when they were the “Greatest Show on Ice.” This isn’t the same run-and-gun team that dominated the NHL, but if the best players play like that night in and night out, it would be foolish to put limitations on what the Caps can do.
“Everybody wants to be on their best and when some of the best players in the world are on their best, it’s pretty good,” forward Marcus Johansson said.
Tuesday night was a showcase for the stars, who led the way as the Caps erased a two-goal deficit beginning with Ovechkin’s goal with 49 seconds left in the first period.
“Big goal by Ovi at the end of the first period, huge goal,” coach Adam Oates said. “We had nothing, we gave them two, we didn’t have a great start. Big goal for us to get back into the game and intermission to regroup.”
It was just the beginning. Backstrom had his passing fancy working and Green shot the puck like he hasn’t in a long time. By the time Ovechkin scored the Caps’ fourth goal of the night, there was little life left in the Hurricanes.
Ovechkin celebrated by jumping into the glass, a common sight in years past but a rare one this year as the captain has shown a more businesslike approach amid his adjustment to right wing.
“It was pretty big goal,” Ovechkin said. “I was just happy.”
Happy Ovechkin hasn’t made many appearances this season. But this is the Ovechkin who piles up points like an All-Star; he has 10 goals and five assists during this nine-game point streak.
“Ovi’s been in beast mode the last little bit, scoring big goals for us,” right wing Joel Ward said.
Ovechkin’s “beast mode” by itself can carry the Caps, but they’re almost impossible to stop if Backstrom and Green produce like this.
“That’s part of the responsibility of who they are on the team,” Oates said. “Obviously they all had good games, which is good, pulled us back into it.”
The Caps have pulled back into playoff contention after a brutal 2-8-1 start to the season. It took them 25 more games, but this victory over the Hurricanes pulled them to hockey’s version of .500 at 17-17-2.
“I wish we can do earlier,” Ovechkin said. “We just have to play the same way.”
Falling behind 2-0 isn’t a recipe for continued success, but the Caps managed to come back on a night Jiri Tlusty recorded a hat trick and Semin had two assists. They took advantage of goaltender Dan Ellis’ share of problems and the Hurricanes’ proclivity to turn the puck over.
The end result was their fifth road victory in the past six chances, one that kept them three points back of the eighth spot in the Eastern Conference and pulled them within two points of the Jets with two games in hand.
“We knew where we were, where we stand and what games are most important here,” Green said. “Tonight was the biggest one for us yet so we need to come out and play strong like we did, get the two points because if we didn’t we would set ourselves way back. The guys pulled through, guys played great even the third, fourth line. They did exactly what they needed to do tonight for us to win. It was a team effort.”
A team effort led by Ovechkin, Backstrom and Green.
“We just kept rolling,” Ovechkin said. “That kind of confidence after that like what we have, when you play with confidence, you know every chance whether you’re gonna score or not, it’s gonna be hard for them.”
And hard for the rest of the league if these kinds of performances become commonplace again, like the “good old days.”
Notes: Forward Matt Hendricks suffered a scratched eye as part of a scrum and played just four shifts in the final two periods. Oates said he was OK. … Ward reported being all right after taking a puck to the neck. … Goaltender Braden Holtby made 31 saves on 34 shots to pick up his 15th victory of the season.