PITTSBURGH – The wait to exhale is finally over for Washington's Alex Ovechkin.
Washington's superstar scored a huge goal Tuesday night against the Penguins in the Capitals' convincing 6-3 win against the Pittsburgh Penguins at Mellon Arena -- a victory that gave Ovechkin's Caps a sweep of the four-game season series against the defending Stanley Cup champions.
The power-play goal gave Washington a 5-3 lead in the third minute of the third period and allowed the Capitals to breathe a little easier. But not as easily as their superstar, who was joyously celebrating his first goal in five games and just his third in the past dozen contests.
"I think that power-play goal give me more breath," Ovechkin said. "I didn't score like three or four games, but I had lots of chances to score and they didn't go in. Finally, one goes in and I felt pretty good. The last 10 minutes, I felt great out there."
Much has been made of Ovechkin's goal-scoring struggles since the Olympic break. Ovi went the first three games after the break without a goal and then scored two against Dallas. But he has been running cold ever since and entered Tuesday night with just four goals in the 15 games since Canada claimed the tournament's gold medal on Feb. 28.
There were whispers that maybe Ovechkin had lost his karma after a disappointing showing for both himself and his Russian team in the Olympics. Perhaps his legendary confidence had abandoned the Russian star.
Not so, says Mike Knuble, Ovechkin's linemate in Washington.
"I don't think he'll ever lose his confidence," Knuble said. "I think anybody is going to squeeze the stick a little more when the goals aren't there; that's human nature. He's probably the top scorer in the world. He's not going to lose confidence."
Ovechkin showed his goal-scoring acumen just four seconds after Pittsburgh's Bill Guerin was whistled for high sticking in the third minute of the third period.
Washington center Nicklas Backstrom won the offensive-zone draw immediately after the penalty and the puck skittered to the top of the circle. Ovechkin beat everyone to the loose puck and fired off a seeing-eye shot that eluded Brent Johnson, who replaced starter Marc-Andre Fleury in the second period.
Suddenly, Ovechkin was a threat again; more closely resembling the man that has won the past two Richard Trophies. He also looked like the player that Washington coach Bruce Boudreau has wanted to see emerge throughout this mini-slump.
"I saw some hitting; I saw him going wide instead of cutting into the middle all of the time where he is looking for the easy play," said Boudreau, who gave Ovechkin a pep talk earlier this week. "He was driving the defensemen back, especially in the last two periods. It wasn't because of that he scored but he was starting to get chances. I see signs of him perking up, which is a good time for him to do that."
His teammates also see signs of Ovechkin coming to life -- and they couldn't be happier.
"He loves to score goals," defenseman Tyler Sloan said. "When he does score, he gets amped up and he revs up. Every shift he just builds and builds and gets better and better. You saw that tonight."
Ovechkin added an empty-net goal in the game's last second and now has 48 goals on the season, the same number as Pittsburgh's Sidney Crosby. The two superstars are tied for the League lead in goals, although Crosby has three games remaining to Ovechkin's two.
Tampa Bay's Steven Stamkos is also in the picture after scoring goal No. 47 in Tuesday's loss to Carolina.
Ovechkin is closing in on the lead in the scoring race; he has 106 points, one behind Vancouver's Henrik Sedin.
Suddenly, everything is once again right in Ovechkin's world, which has to be a scary proposition for the rest of the NHL.
"He doesn't need more confidence, he knows he is the best player in the world," Washington's Matt Bradley said. "It's nice to see him score, but you are not going to shake his confidence."