On Dec. 29, 2007, few could have predicted that Alex Ovechkin would play – let alone score four goals – in a game at Eastern Conference-leading Ottawa. On Dec. 27, in a 4-3 overtime loss at Pittsburgh, Ovechkin sustained a deep cut above his knee that required stitches after making contact with Pittsburgh defenseman Kris Letang’s skate.
Ovechkin did not practice the day before the game against the Senators, and remained a game-day decision for Bruce Boudreau’s club.
"Probably I play," Ovechkin said. "After the morning skate tomorrow, we'll see."
Boudreau, just 17 games into his tenure as head coach after replacing Glen Hanlon on Nov. 22, had led the Caps to an 8-5-4 record, bringing the team back to respectability after a 6-14-1 start.
But Ottawa, the defending Eastern Conference champions, presented a new challenge. The Senators were the class of the East with an overall record of 25-8-4, and a 9-1-1 record in 11 games heading into the contest against Washington.
With his parents arriving from Moscow to see the game, Ovechkin decided to lace up his skates. When the Capitals took the ice in front of a standing room only crowd of 20,294 at Scotiabank Place with their star in uniform, it quickly became apparent that the gap between the best and worst teams in the East was narrowing.
Ovechkin’s first goal came on the power play at 4:45 of the first period, when he blasted the puck between Martin Gerber’s pads to give the Caps a 2-0 lead.
Goal number two came early in the second period, when Ovechkin finished a two-on-one with Tom Poti to give the Caps a 3-1 lead at 3:13 of the second period. Ovechkin would add an assist on Nicklas Backstrom’s goal with 2.6 seconds left in the period to give the Caps a 5-2 lead heading into the third period.
Through two periods, the Caps had thoroughly dominated the contest, outshooting the Senators 23-10. But Ottawa opened a wild third period by scoring three of the next four goals, capped off by Mike Fisher’s power play goal past Olaf Kolzig at 12:36 to cut the Capitals’ lead to 6-5 and send the home crowd into a temporary frenzy.
Just over a minute after Fisher’s score, Ovechkin took a long pass from Jeff Schultz, skated into the offensive zone, and fired a rocket past Gerber at 13:46 for his third career hat trick.
Fisher completed his hat trick with another goal at 17:55 to cut the Caps lead to 7-6. With Gerber on the bench for an extra attacker, Ovechkin corralled the puck in front of his own goal and fired it all the way down the ice into the empty net at 19:32 for his first career four-goal game.
"What impresses me most is that he actually played tonight," Kolzig said after the game. "If you guys would have seen the gash on his leg and I know a lot of guys were, not begging him but leaning towards, 'Hey, you think you can play tonight?' He had a lot of courage and he put on a heck of a show."
The Capitals would go on to finish a home-and-home sweep of the Senators with a 6-3 win at Verizon Center on New Year’s Day in 2008.
On the season, the Capitals won all four games against Ottawa, three with Boudreau as head coach, on their way to an improbable run to the postseason, while Ottawa fell to seventh in the East and did not clinch a playoff spot until the final day of the regular season.