Ovi had his first hat trick of the season -- and his first multiple-goal game since Oct. 30 -- as he led the Washington Capitals to a 4-1 victory at Toronto on Saturday night.
"It's always nice when you score goals," Ovechkin said. "I'll take it. ... I had three lucky goals."
Ovechkin has struggled to score this season -- he came to Air Canada Centre with just 16 games in 48 games, a huge slump for a player who's never had fewer than 46 -- but he's owned the Leafs throughout his NHL career. His 10th career hat trick gave him 22 goals in as many games against the Leafs.
"You knew eventually he was going to break out," Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau said. "He's gotten two first-period goals this year and when he got the third one today, I thought 'OK, he gets that goal early and he's going to be going.'
"I thought he was as good as he's been all year."
The other hero for the Caps was rookie goaltender Braden Holtby, who stopped 35 shots for his second win in three nights after being recalled from Hershey of the AHL after Michal Neuvirth was injured on Tuesday.
"You can usually tell before the game if you're feeling right or not," said Holtby, who allowed only a third-period goal by Tim Brent. "To get a save off the start like that, it definitely brings the momentum in your favor. Plays like that can go either way - it's a matter of inches - and luckily tonight it hit the top of my pad."
Matt Hendricks added Washington's other goal on a spectacular third-period breakaway.
\Ovechkin opened the scoring 14:27 into the game by tipping home a point shot by Jeff Schultz. Ovi and Leafs goalie Jean-Sebastien Giguere bumped at the top of the crease on the play after Ovechkin got a piece of the puck and deflected in into the net.
Holtby stood tall in the second period, denying Tyler Bozak on a breakaway after he stole the puck from Mike Green, stopped a tip-in try by Joey Crabb at the goal line and turning aside two great chances by Phil Kessel.
Ovechkin gave his goaltender some breathing room when he beat Giguere just 1:12 into the third period. But Brent quickly ended Holtby's shutout bid at 2:52 when he took a pass from Jay Rosehill and fired a low shot into the net.
But Hendricks, who makes his living as a checker and agitator, restored the two-goal lead at 8:13 with a Ovi-like effort -- he took the puck from defenseman Luke Schenn, raced in alone and deked Giguere before scoring his sixth of the season into a wide-open net.
"It came at such an opportune time," Boudreau said. "For about three or four minutes after that it really disillusioned them."
Holtby had one more gem -- a sensational glove save on Bozak in the final two minutes -- before Ovechkin raced past Tomas Kaberle and hit the empty net to complete his hat trick.
"It's just a good atmosphere and a great building to play hockey," Ovechkin said of the Air Canada Centre. "It's nice."
It was just another frustrating night for the Leafs, who felt they deserved a better outcome.
"We missed empty nets, we had some great scoring opportunities in the first two periods," coach Ron Wilson said. "We could have and probably should have had the lead.
"Their goalie made some unbelievable saves."
Material from team media and wire services was used in this report
|Alex Ovechkin (17) ASST: Jeff Schultz (6), Nicklas Backstrom (33)|
1 - 0 WSH
|Alex Ovechkin (18) ASST: Mike Green (14), Jason Chimera (10)|
2 - 0 WSH
|Tim Brent (4) ASST: Jay Rosehill (1), Dion Phaneuf (9)|
2 - 1 WSH
|Matt Hendricks (6) ASST: NONE|
3 - 1 WSH
|EN - Alex Ovechkin (19) ASST: Nicklas Backstrom (34), John Carlson (16)|
4 - 1 WSH
|Mike Knuble Tripping against Carl Gunnarsson|
|Mikhail Grabovski Tripping against Marcus Johansson|
|Mike Brown Fighting (maj) against Matt Hendricks|
|Matt Hendricks Fighting (maj) against Mike Brown|
|Nicklas Backstrom Tripping against Francois Beauchemin|
|Nicklas Backstrom Hi-sticking against Colby Armstrong|
|Kris Versteeg Too many men/ice - bench|