Ovechkin’s hat trick powers Capitals to victory
TORONTO — Alex Ovechkin scored a hat trick Saturday night helping the Washington Capitals to a 4-2 victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs.
The hat trick is a special feat in itself, but this one was loaded with more significance.
The Capitals left winger scored the goals after inviting cancer survivor Alex Luey, a 13-year-old from Niagara Falls, Ontario, to the game. He had heard about the minor hockey player’s story last month.
Ovechkin did not promise to score a hat trick for his special guest.
“Not a hat trick, but I said if I scored a goal, I scored it for him,” said Ovechkin, who signed and gave the youngster his gloves, stick and helmet.
Ovechkin, who has 18 goals for the season, also moved into 21st place on the NHL all-time scoring list with his first goal of the game, No. 574 in his career, moving him past Mike Bossy.
“It’s history,” he said. “I thought our line today played very well,”
Jakub Vrana also scored for the Capitals (14-10-1), who have won three games in a row — to match their season-best winning streak — since coach Barry Trotz reorganized his forward lines, reuniting Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom.
Ovechkin’s third goal of the game came at 19:53 of the third period into an empty net. It was his third hat trick of the campaign after combining for seven goals in the first two games of the season.
“You’re only as good as your last game,” Trotz said. “We’ll see what we do in our next game, but we’re headed in the right direction. I like it that we’re all sharing in the load. Ovie was Ovie. He stepped it up.”
Braden Holtby stopped 27 shots in the Washington goal. T.J. Oshie had three assists for the Capitals.
“When Big 8 (Ovechkin) is going he pulls the team with him,” Oshie said. “It wasn’t only the goals. but he was working, he was fore checking, he was skating, he was hitting. When he does all that, there aren’t too many guys in the world who can keep up.”
Defensemen Jake Gardiner and Nikita Zaitsev scored for the Maple Leafs (15-9-1) and backup goaltender Curtis McElhinney made 17 saves.
“I actually liked us,” Maple Leafs coach Mike Babcock said. ‘We were down 2-0 after one and we had given up not very much. I thought we played good. I thought neither team was running around crazy in the first period. Both teams had played (Friday), both teams were under control, (Ovechkin) scores. He touched it twice and shot it in the net twice (in the first period).
“I liked our game even in the second when they scored to make it 3-0. I thought we fell off for the next five or six minutes and then we had a real push at the end of the period and then, obviously, a real push in the third. The bottom line is you can’t be behind and catch up very often in the National Hockey League”
Ovechkin completed a rush from his own end with a snap shot from the slot at 12:43 of the first period with Backstrom picking up an assist.
Ovechkin scored again at 19:13 of the first on a power play, slapping a rolling puck from the high slot after a faceoff.
Vrana notched his seventh goal of the season at 11:02 of the second period from the low slot after beating Zaitsev to the puck at the Maple Leafs blue line.
Gardiner scored his second goal of the season on a shot from the blue line at 1:24 of the third period.
Zaitsev scored his third of the season at 6:09 of the third. He carried the puck from the blue line to the side of the goal and his pass bounced in off Holtby.
“We got one early, got a second one, outplayed them pretty badly (in the third period),” Gardiner said. “Probably one of our best periods in a while. I think the whole game we played decent. It’s just when Ovechkin gets a chance like that and he puts it in the right spot it’s going to be tough to save. I thought (McElhinney) played well tonight, it’s just like I said, Ovechkin’s got a heck of a shot.”
The Maple Leafs removed McElhinney for an extra attacker with 2:07 left in the third period.
NOTES: Toronto LW Matt Martin, C Dominic Moore and D Roman Polak returned to the lineup Saturday. Martin did not suit up for the win Friday against the Carolina, Moore did not play in the two previous games and Polak had not played for the previous 10 games. D Connor Carrick, RW Nikita Soshnikov and LW Josh Leivo were not in uniform. ... Washington RW Brett Connolly, D Aaron Ness and LW Nathan Walker did not dress Saturday. ... The Maple Leafs defeated the Capitals 2-0 in Washington on Oct. 17. ... The Capitals are home to the Los Angeles Kings on Thursday. ... The Maple Leafs visit the Calgary Flames on Tuesday.