Down by a goal midway through the game on the night they were awarded the President’s Trophy, which recognizes the team with the best record in the NHL, the Washington Capitals, fueled by Alex Ovechkin and Niklas Backstrom achieving individual milestones, escaped Verizon Center on Friday night with a 5-2 victory over division rivals, the Atlanta Thrashers.
Ovechkin, Washington’s leading scorer, who entered the game with 48 goals, registered his 49th and 50th goals of the season, with Backstrom collecting his 100th point of the campaign on the 50th goal.
Backstrom banged home the only goal of the first period, depositing Ovechkin’s rebound behind Atlanta netminder, Ondrej Pavelec, at 14:44. Backstrom’s goal was his 32nd of the season, and 4th at Atlanta’s expense.
Despite Backstrom's goal, Washington’s tough as nails winger, Quintin Laing, had the best two opportunities of the first period, but had both of his quality bids were rejected by Pavelec.
“It would have been nice for them to go in," said Laing, who has only two goals on the season. "As a fourth liner, you don’t get many chances like that, at least I don’t usually. Whenever you get chances like that in tight, you want to put them in, but they didn’t go my way; I’ll just have to work harder on those in practice tomorrow.”
Laing, who has missed sizeable portions of the last two seasons in the District as a result of him sacrificing his body to block shots, knows that despite playing in seven of the last nine games, playoff time for him is anything but guaranteed.
“We’ll see; we have three extra forwards, and every game, three guys will have to sit out,” said Laing, who has never appeared in a Caps playoff game. “I’m going to be ready whatever my role is, and it’s just a matter of being ready and staying sharp and making the most of it when you get your opportunity.”
Backstrom’s goal stood as the only goal of the game until 11:15 of the second period, when former Bear, Evgeny Artyukhin, banked a shot off the skate of Washington forward, Brendan Morrison, to knot the affair at a goal each.
Less the two minutes after Artyukhin’s tally, and with the Caps on a power play, Clarke MacArthur stole Ovechkin’s point pass and then beat Washington goalie, Jose Theodore, on a breakaway attempt, depositing the biscuit high into the net to give the visitors a 2-1 lead at 13:07. MacArthur’s marker was reviewed by the off-ice officials, but the goal was allowed after the video review clearly showed the puck had entered and then exited the net.
Ovechkin, the league’s reigning Rocket Richard Trophy winner, symbolic of goal-scoring superiority, atoned for his power play slipup by sizzling a slapshot by Pavelec at 16:04 to tie the game. Ovechkin’s goal was his 49th of the season, and featured a sole assist to Alexander Semin who started the play in the neutral zone.
Theodore saved his best work for the third period, denying Maxim Afinogenov’s point-blank backhand bid and laying down the leather and gloving Bryan Little’s bid at 7:35 to keep the Thrashers from taking another lead.
Ovechkin was at it again just shy of the midway point of the final period, lasering a low missile by the stick side of Pavelec at 9:49 to give the Capitals a lead they would never relinquish.
Ovechkin’s goal was his 50th of the season, and was assisted by Backstrom and Semin. Backstrom’s helper was his 100th point of the season, and his coach, Bruce Boudreau, who has seen Backstrom develop into one of the premiere players in the league during his three seasons behind the Washington bench, couldn’t be happier for the 22-year old Swede.
“I’m just really proud of him,” said Boudreau. “You know he’s such a great young man. You like to see great people and good people succeed. I was sitting there going, 'Nicky just got his 100th and Alex just got his 5oth; whose picking up the puck'?”
Jason Chimera (7th goal as a Capital) and Backstrom struck later in the third frame within a 49 second span to finish out the scoring and give the Caps their 54th win of the season and their 30h home ice triumph.
Theodore, who stopped 29 Atlanta shots on the night to register his the 30th win of the season, has now accumulated 30 or more wins in four different seasons in the NHL, including the last two with Washington.