- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 16, 2020

Sometimes payback requires losing a bit of blood. For NHL players like Alex Ovechkin, that’s just a run-of-the-mill day at work.

Ovechkin left early in the first period of Thursday’s game to receive stitches after catching a high stick to the face, then returned in time to put on a show for the home crowd with his second hat trick of the season.

“I could just tell when he got that high stick in the first there and then he got pissed off, and he always plays better when he’s a little pissed off,” Nicklas Backstrom said. “So there you go. That was drawn up like that, I think. So, came back, got a little mad, scored two and then I was just waiting for the third. That’s the story of Ovi, I think.”

Ovechkin lifted the Washington Capitals to a 5-2 win over the New Jersey Devils, five days after the Devils embarrassed Washington on its home ice with a 5-1 win.

The Russian scored on a 5-on-3 power play and at even strength in the first period, and Backstrom — playing his first game since signing a new five-year deal with Washington — recorded assists for both goals.

Ovechkin scored No. 3 with 4:18 left in the game. Tom Wilson spun into a backhand pass from the left boards to the slot, where Ovechkin buried a wrister, prompting chants and a storm of hats onto the ice.

Ovechkin has scored five in the past two games, 31 for the season and 689 for his career — only two away from passing Mario Lemieux for 10th place all-time.

“He’s one of my idols when I’m growing up,” Ovechkin said of Lemieux. “I get lucky I have a time to play against him, was on the ice with him a couple times. It’s huge.”

Early in the game, Devils winger Miles Wood skated behind Ovechkin and caught the Russian’s face with his outstretched stick, leaving his mouth bloodied, though the officials didn’t see the play. Ovechkin missed at least one shift to go to the locker room for treatment, but returned halfway into the first period.

“I don’t think he meant to do it, and the ref didn’t see it,” Ovechkin said, sporting a split upper lip. “But yeah, I was little mad and I just punish them.”

Then Ovechkin got to doing what he does best — namely, scoring a power-play goal from the left circle. T.J. Oshie won an offensive-zone faceoff and the puck shuttled around from Backstrom to John Carlson to Ovechkin for a one-timer.

His second, in the final minute of the period, also was aided by a faceoff. Backstrom won one in the left circle and his longtime linemate skated in and snapped the puck past Louis Domingue.

Due to a lower-body injury, Domingue was replaced by Cory Schneider to start the second, and the Capitals scored on Schneider on the first shift of the period. Lars Eller fed Carl Hagelin as he skated straight ahead into the slot.

Wayne Simmonds converted for New Jersey and Blake Coleman had a breakaway goal when the Devils were shorthanded early in the third period, but the Capitals responded three minutes after with Vrana’s 21st of the year. At a scrum in front of New Jersey’s net, Nikita Gusev tried to clear the puck out but slid it straight to Vrana in front of the crease.

“I just try to stay in the area between the hash marks,” Vrana said. “I mean, there was a bad turnover right on my stick and I just tried to shoot it quick and it went in so I was happy for that.”

After earning his first NHL shutout against Carolina on Monday, Ilya Samsonov made 32 saves to win his ninth straight start and improve to 14-2-1 to start his rookie year.

Ovechkin wasn’t the only Capital to take a stick to the face Thursday. Devils defenseman Sami Vatanen high-sticked Lars Eller, drawing blood, and that time the officials caught it and called a double-minor.

Meanwhile, Capitals coach Todd Reirden said Ovechkin will play Saturday against the New York Islanders, meaning he will sit out the Capitals’ first game back from the All-Star Break against the Montreal Canadiens. Because Ovechkin chose for the second straight year not to attend the All-Star Game, he has to serve a one-game suspension directly before or directly after the break.

He could tie or even pass Lemieux on Saturday, but whatever happens, there are several more goal milestones in Ovechkin’s reach in the next few months, including No. 700.

“It never get old, but without my team, without my teammates, I’d never reach that milestone, I’d never reach those numbers,” Ovechkin said. “Obviously it’s a team effort. It’s really cool. … Just have to keep going.”

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