Wednesday night's game between the Capitals and the Pittsburgh Penguins featured the two hottest teams in the NHL and a couple of the fiercest rivals in the league, too. Midway through the season, the two teams entered the game with the same number of points in the standings, making the game a true four-point tilt.
Video: Ovechkin records 1,000th point, nets two goals in win
Also on the docket was the matter of Alex Ovechkin's 1,000th career NHL point. On Monday night in Montreal, Ovechkin flashed his flair for the dramatic, notching his 544th career goal on a power play late in the game to match Canadiens legend Maurice "Rocket" Richard in the city where Richard played his entire NHL career.
That goal was also career point No. 999 for Ovechkin, leaving him just a point shy of a grand. With a three-game homestand looming, it seemed like a good bet that Ovechkin would reach quad digits in front of the home folks at some point during the three games.
Ovechkin left little time for drama, scoring just 35 seconds into the game to get the milestone out of the way quickly. The goal also gave the Caps a lead they would not relinquish en route to a 5-2 win over the Penguins.
Video: Ovechkin on his 1,000th point, 5-2 win vs. Pittsburgh
"I was thinking about it before the game," says Ovechkin. "Everybody's here, and I said it would be nice to get 1,000 points at home. But I was excited and pretty happy. It was a big moment for our organization, for myself and for my wife and my teammates."
"Everybody was happy," says Caps coach Barry Trotz. "It didn't take him very long to get it done. That was a great start for him, and for us. He sort of had that look in his eye once he touched the puck that something good was going to happen. I'm real happy for him, and I know the guys are thrilled for him. Obviously, a little history.
"I said to him in Montreal, 'It was really cool that you tied Richard in Montreal, but I think it's only fitting that you get the thousandth point here, for our fans.' So he did it, and he didn't take much time."
On the game's first shift, Pens defenseman Trevor Daley turned the puck over to T.J. Oshie deep in Washington's zone. Oshie quickly fed ahead to Nicklas Backstrom, creating a developing two-on-one with Backstrom and Ovechkin. As Daley raced to get back, Backstrom skated the puck to the red line, then dished to Ovechkin, who gained the Pittsburgh zone. The Caps' captain drifted toward the slot, waited, and fired back toward the short side, firing it past Pittsburgh's Marc-Andre Fleury's outstretched glove.
Video: PIT@WSH: Ovechkin gets 1,000th point, finds net twice
Thirty-five seconds into the game, Ovechkin had his 1,000th career point, his 20th goal of the season and - just as importantly - a 1-0 lead for his team.
"We obviously don't want to give up a goal on the very first shift," says Pens coach Mike Sullivan, "but I thought we responded fine. We were playing the game the right way; we had some quality chances. We don't score, we come down after the first period and it's 1-0. But there was a lot of the game that we liked. I thought our guys responded fine."
Pittsburgh had the puck for most of the first half of the first frame, but Washington started to turn the tables later on, beginning with a strong and sustained offensive-zone shift from the Jay Beagle line just ahead of the final television timeout of the opening period.
Just ahead of the midpoint of the middle period, Tom Wilson drew a hooking call on Pittsburgh's Carl Hagelin, and Washington doubled its lead on the ensuing power play.
From his customary spot along the right half wall, Backstrom worked the puck to John Carlson at center point. Carlson put a pass right in Ovechkin's sweet spot, and No. 8 wound up and pounded the puck high to the far side, past Fleury's late glove wave. Ovechkin's second goal of the night pushed Washington's advantage to 2-0 at the 8:08 mark of the second.
Washington carried that lead into the third, then made it a 3-0 game early in the final period when Evgeny Kuznetsov dusted off his trademark behind the net reversal pass, feeding linemate Justin Williams for an easy five-hole tap-in from the top of the paint at 4:31.
Video: PIT@WSH: Williams nets Kuznetsov's nifty feed in 3rd
From that point, the contest devolved into a festival of infractions. Dmitry Orlov started the penalty parade by taking an unnecessary after-the-whistle roughing call at 6:28. Pittsburgh had very little going on offensively at that point of the night - the Pens had two shots from outside 50 feet and nothing else in the previous 10 minutes of playing time - but the Pens drew some life from that power play.
Evgeni Malkin's one-timer from the right circle beat Caps goalie Braden Holtby to make it a 3-1 game at 7:46, and Washington had to kill off an Oshie holding call shortly thereafter to preserve that two-goal cushion.
With the Pens pushing to pull closer, ex-Caps defenseman Steve Oleksy committed his second leg-on-leg tripping foul of the game, putting Washington on the power play with 7:31 left.
Seconds after dodging a bullet when the Pens' Matt Cullen hit the crossbar on a shorthanded breakaway, the Caps restored their three-goal advantage with a pretty rush goal.
Carlson fired a tape-to-tape stretch pass from his own goal line to a waiting Oshie at the Pittsburgh line. Oshie gained the zone and pulled up, waiting and surveying. As Backstrom drove toward the net, Oshie floated him a feed, and Backstrom finished with the patience and precision of a paid assassin to make it a 4-1 game with 6:49 remaining.
With Oshie boxed for his third minor penalty of the night, Pittsburgh's Patric Hornqvist finished off an excellent passing sequence on the power play, chipping the puck behind Holtby to make it 4-2 with 3:36 left.
Pittsburgh pulled Fleury in an effort to close the gap, but the Caps were having none of it. The Pens never threatened with the extra skater, and Lars Eller's empty-netter in the waning seconds accounted for the 5-2 final.
Backstrom set up Eller's goal, giving the Caps center three goals and 11 points among the 14 goals Washington has scored against Pittsburgh this season.
Video: Caps players talk about #Ovech1kin, 5-2 win
"It was great," says Backstrom. "I felt like [the Pens] maybe were a little bit hungry in the first period, but at the same time, they didn't get a lot. The shots were from the outside instead of the slot, and then obviously the power-play goal was huge there in the second, and we just kept going.
"It was a big test for us. We're happy about our game tonight."
With the victory, the Caps reached the midway point of the season with a seven-game winning streak - their longest in more than a year - and 59 points, a 118-point pace. Washington finished last season with 120 points. Only Columbus (.750) owns a better points percentage this season than Washington (.720).