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Caps mount historic comeback, Ovechkin has hat trick and displays touching and remarkable postgame leadership, much more

by Mike Vogel @VogsCaps /

Bird In A Cage - Devon Toews scored late in the second period of Saturday's matinee match on Long Island, his goal giving the Islanders a 4-1 lead over the visiting Capitals at 17:25. At that juncture of the afternoon - and having produced the first three-point performance of his 95-game career in the league -Toews felt sufficiently emboldened to break into a mocking version of the "bird celly," a post-goal jubilation jig minted and trademarked by Washington's own Evgeny Kuznetsov.

But by afternoon's end, Toews and his teammates couldn't have felt much like flying, or dancing, or celebrating. As for the Capitals, set to embark upon a week away from the rink on their midseason break, they may have been able to reach their scattered tropical destinations without benefit of an airplane, given what went down after that Toews tally.

Washington entered the third period looking up at that same 4-1 deficit, but by afternoon's end the Caps were soaring, having scored five unanswered goals in a 6-4 defeathering of the Islanders.

The victory was the Caps' third (rhymes with bird) in succession, and it featured yet another in a recent string of virtuoso performances from Alex Ovechkin, who had a hat trick for the second straight game.

The Caps started pecking away early in the third, making it 4-2 when Carl Hagelin swooped in from the bench to the net front to convert a Richard Panik feed at 2:27, giving flight to the Caps' fledgling comeback.

Ovechkin winged a backhander off a defender and into the net at 5:18, making it 4-3. The Isles flitted to their bench in the aftermath of that goal, as coach Barry Trotz called his timeout in an effort to settle his flock.

New York kept it together for another 10 minutes or so, until Tom Wilson's tip-in of a Dmitry Orlov with 5:28 remaining put the Isles in a flap, tying the game at 4-4.

Video: WSH@NYI: Wilson redirects Orlov's shot in for goal

With less than three minutes left, Jakub Vrana got his talons into on an Isles turnover high in New York ice and came through in the clutch, snapping what would prove to be the game-winner past Varlamov at 17:30.

Finally, Ovechkin took a T.J. Oshie feed and fluttered a shot into an empty nest - uh - net, and the Caps had finished another remarkable comeback, putting the Isles down with a goose egg in the third, and handing them a loss that will be tough to swallow.

"I think we simplified the game and just tried to just get the puck in their zone them all and try to get in hard on forecheck," says Orlov of the Caps' comeback. "As soon as we get the puck, we try to get a couple guys at the net and deliver it there, and some good things happened. It was like that in the third period, so that's a great comeback by our team."

Ride, Captain Ride - With the Caps' comeback complete, the two points in the books, and a steady snow falling outside NYCB Live, the Caps hurriedly changed out of their uniforms and gear following Saturday afternoon's stunning comeback in Uniondale. Not all of them would be boarding the team plane for its return trip to Dulles; many players made alternate commercial arrangements of their own to get out of New York and off to their preferred midseason break locations.

First, though, there was some team business to take care of, the ceremonial presentation of the Washington Nats batting helmet. This 2019-20 Caps postgame ritual started in October when the Nats were in the midst of their incredible run to the first World Series championship in franchise history. The helmet is awarded to the "player of the game," - which is loosely defined; there are at times extenuating circumstances, as you'll see - and it is presented by the previous winner.

In Saturday afternoon's situation, Ovechkin was the previous winner, having notched a hat trick on Thursday against New Jersey. Players don't award the helmet to themselves, so Ovechkin gave it to Braden Holtby, who started Saturday's game but was pulled after permitting four goals on 22 shot in 40 minutes of work. In giving Holtby the helmet, Ovechkin proclaimed, "Without your saves, we wouldn't have had a chance."

Holtby is in the midst of one of the toughest stretches of his career, having yielded three or more goals in seven straight starts, and owning a 1-6-0 mark in his last seven starts. In a chaotic locker room situation with all the members of this close-knit team set to scatter about the globe for the next several days, Ovechkin had the humanity and presence of mind to use the moment to shore up a sagging teammate.

Being a great captain isn't all about what happens on the ice. A lot of that leadership is displayed away from the rinks and the cameras. Ovechkin is clearly at the top of his captaincy game as well.

Video: Postgame | January 18

Move On Up - With his three goals on Saturday, Ovechkin again reached some milestones, caught and passed some players on the all-time list. It's been a remarkable week for the Caps' captain, who has scored eight goals in his last three games to go from 684 to 692 career goals in less than a week's time:

  • With his first goal of the game, Ovechkin matched Mario Lemieux (690) for 10th place on the league's all-time list. With his second, he passed Lemieux and moved into sole possession of 10th. Ovechkin's third goal tied him with Steve Yzerman for ninth place all-time. Next up in Ovechkin's sights is Mark Messier (694), who celebrated his 59th birthday on Saturday.
  • Ovechkin notched a hat trick for the second straight game, the third time in the last three seasons he has had consecutive hat tricks. Only Joe Malone (four) and Wayne Gretzky (three) have done so as many times. In the last 98 years, only Gretzky and Ovechkin have had as many as three sets of consecutive hat tricks.
  • All three of Ovechkin's consecutive hat tricks have come since his 32nd birthday. Both Malone (31 years, 327 days) and Gretzky (23 years, 28 days) recorded their last such instances at a younger age than Ovechkin when he did it the first time.
  • Ovechkin has more hat tricks (26) than four of the league's teams have managed since he entered the league in 2005-06. During that span, Colorado has had 24 three-goal games, Minnesota and New Jersey have had 19 each, and Vegas has had four.
  • Ovechkin is currently on pace to get from 600 to 700 goals in just 157 games, which would be the fewest game required for any member of the league's exclusive, seven-member 700-goal club. Remarkably, it would also be the second-fastest jump for Ovechkin to get from one 100-goal milestone to the next in his NHL career; he needed only 130 games to get from 100 to 200 career goals.
  • The fewest games Ovechkin has needed to reach any set of 100 goals is 126 games. After scoring his 124th career goal on 12/27/07, he netted his 224th on 10/6/09.
  • Ovechkin has a chance to become the second-fastest player to 700 goals in league history. Gretzky got there in 886 games, and Brett Hull is currently second-fastest with 1,157 games. Ovechkin now has 692 goals in 1,133 games, so he can nudge Hull aside with eight goals in his next 23 or fewer games. Gretzky and Hull are currently the only players to reach 700 goals in fewer than 1,200 games.
  • Ovechkin's Saturday hat trick was his first ever against the Islanders. He has registered at least one three-goal game against 16 different NHL franchises, victimizing Ottawa (three) more frequently than any other team.
  • With 26 career hat tricks, Ovechkin is tied for eighth all-time with Maurice "Rocket" Richard.
  • Although he led the Caps with 11 shot attempts in Saturday's game, Ovechkin scored his three goals on just three shots on net. He had five shots blocked, and three other tries missed the net.

Video: Reirden Postgame | January 18

    Rally Caps - Washington's comeback from a three-goal hole heading into the third period was its second of the season. The Caps rallied from a 5-2 deficit to take a 6-5 shootout win over the Canucks in Vancouver on Oct. 25. It's the first time in franchise history that the Capitals have managed two such victories in the same season.

    The Caps and the Pittsburgh Penguins are the only two teams in the league with multiple three-goal, third-period comebacks this season; the Penguins did it to the Islanders on Long Island on Nov. 7 and victimized Vancouver in Pittsburgh on Nov. 27.

    The 1983-84 edition of the Minnesota North Stars is the only team in league history with more than two of those rare comebacks in the same season, and the North Stars did it four times during that campaign.

    Saturday's win also marks just the fourth time the Caps have ever bounced back from three down in the third to win in regulation. Washington earned a 5-4 win over the Rangers at Madison Square Garden on Dec. 15, 1979, it took a 5-4 win over the Whalers in Hartford on Feb. 2, 1986 and it claimed a 6-5 victory over the Ottawa Senators in the District on March 11, 2001.

    Including overtime and shootout wins, Saturday's three-goal, third-period comeback is the ninth in Washington's franchise history.

    Sixty For Carly - Caps defenseman John Carlson recorded two assists in Saturday's game, reaching 60 points (13 goals, 47 assists) in the process. With 60 points in 49 games, Carlson has reached the 60-point level faster than any defenseman in Caps history, besting Mike Green's performances in 2008-09 and '09-10 when he got to 60 in 57 games in each of those campaigns.

    In the last 26 years, only one defenseman - Hockey Hall of Famer Raymond Bourque - reached the 60-point level prior to his 50th game of any season. Bourque had 60 points (14 goals, 46 assists) in 49 games in 1993-94.

    Finally, Carlson is also closing in on Calle Johansson for the most assists by a defenseman in Washington's franchise history. Johansson had 361 helpers in his 983 games in a Capitals' sweater, and Carlson is now at 360 assists in 737 games.

    Sawbuck Sammy - Ilya Samsonov came on in relief of Holtby at the start of the third, stopping all seven shots he faced to pick up the victory, and improving to a cool 15-2-1 on the season.

    Samsonov improves to 10-0-0 in his last 10 decisions, with a shutout, a 1.60 GAA and a .941 save pct. over that span. In the league's history of more than 100 years, only two rookie goaltenders have put together longer streaks: 36-year-old Ross Brooks won 14 straight as a rookie for the Bruins in 1973-74, and Hall of Famer George Hainsworth won 11 straight at the age of 31 for the Canadiens in his rookie season of 1926-27.

    Under modern NHL rules, neither Brooks nor Hainsworth would even qualify as a rookie. Any player that is 26 years of age or older on Sept. 15 of that season is not considered a rookie.

    Flying V - Vrana's game-winner was his fifth of the season; he trails Carlson (six) for the team lead in that department. Vrana started the Caps' 2019-20 season with the first overtime game-winner of his NHL career in St. Louis on Oct. 2.

    Washington's No. 13 now has 13 game-winners for his NHL career, and he is in the midst of a hot run of his own, one that is being overshadowed some by Ovechkin's exploits. Vrana has seven goals in his last eight games. With 22 goals on the season, Vrana is only two shy of matching his single-season career high of 24, established last season.

    Down On The Farm - The AHL Hershey Bears earned a 5-4 overtime win over the Atlantic Division-leading Hartford Wolf Pack on Saturday night at Giant Center. Hershey dug its way out of an early two-goal hole for the victory.

    Beck Malenstyn gave the Bears a 1-0 lead at 2:02 of the first, scoring his sixth of the season with a solo assist from Kody Clark. But Hartford scored three times in just over six minutes in the back half of the first to take a 3-1 lead into the second.

    Garrett Pilon made it a 3-2 game with his 10th goal of the season, scoring just 30 seconds into the second with help from Liam O'Brien. Shane Gersich tied it at 3-3 at 16:51 of the second, netting his fifth of the season with help from Erik Burgdoerfer and Bobby Nardella.

    Tyler Lewington's first goal of the season gave Hershey a 4-3 lead at 7:27 of the third, Pilon and O'Brien assisting. But the Wolf Pack evened the game again less than two minutes later, and the contest moved into overtime.

    Some 58 seconds into the extra session, Lewington won it for the Bears with his second goal of the season and the game, Axel Jonsson-Fjallby and Christian Djoos assisting. The goal enabled Pheonix Copley (18 saves) to improve to 11-6-4 on the season.

    The 24-13-2-3 Bears are back in action on Sunday afternoon when they host the Rochester Americans at Giant Center. Hershey is now two points behind Hartford for the top spot in the Atlantic.

    Down a level, the ECHL South Carolina Stingrays made it a clean sweep Saturday for the Washington organization, downing the Atlanta Gladiators by a 4-2 count at North Charleston Coliseum.

    Tom Parisi scored twice for the Stingrays, and Dylan Zink and Andrew Cherniwchan added single markers in support of the 36-save efforts of Parker Milner (13-2-2-0) in the South Carolina nets.

    The 30-5-3-1 Stingrays continue to roll on with the best record in the ECHL. They are back in action on Sunday afternoon as well, hosting the Orlando Solar Bears at the Coliseum.

    By The Numbers - Carlson led the Caps with 24:02 in ice time, and with five shots on net … Ovechkin, Wilson and Garnet Hathaway had four hits each to lead Washington … Radko Gudas had two blocked shots to lead the Caps … Lars Eller won nine of 12 face-offs (75 percent) and Nicklas Backstrom won nine of 15 (60 percent) .. Nick Jensen earned an assist on Hagelin's goal in the third, his first point since Oct. 16.

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