WASHINGTON -- There are nights when Alexander Semin puts on such a breathtaking display of skill that he looks like he could be the best player in the NHL. Saturday was one of those nights.
Semin scored three remarkable goals before Tomas Fleischmann connected 1:37 into overtime to give the injury-plagued Washington Capitals a 4-3 victory against the Atlanta Thrashers.
"He's played hard [this season]," Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau said of Semin, who often takes a back seat to big guns Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom despite scoring 40 goals last season. "The consistency has been there for sure. We are eight games in, but no real lapses. Tonight he got rewarded for playing a good game."
Fleischmann's game-winner was a nifty goal as well -- he backhanded a shot from in close into the far top corner of the net. Michal Neuvirth made 29 saves for the Capitals, who were without one of their top two defensemen (Tom Poti) and saw Mike Green limited to four shifts - all on the power play - because of an upper-body injury.
Evander Kane had two goals for the Thrashers, including one that he batted out of the air with 32.9 seconds left in regulation to force overtime. The win snapped a two-game losing streak for the Capitals, while the Thrashers have dropped three in a row.
"This is a result game," Kane said. "You have to get the wins, but at the same time that point could be huge down the road [trying to get] into the playoffs. Every point you get means a lot."
Andrew Ladd gave Atlanta the lead with a power-play goal in the final minute of the first period, but Semin tied the score 38 seconds into the second. Atlanta goaltender Chris Mason played the puck behind his net, but his pass went awkwardly into the boards along the right wall and Semin blasted it from the right circle off the post and into the net before Mason could recover.
Semin is known for having one of the hardest wrist shots in the League, but he blistered the puck with a full windup.
"I mean, really, how times do you have to try and get around guys? I was just trying to not think about it for once and just hit it," Semin said through a translator.
His second goal was a great individual effort and tied the score at two after Kane's first goal. Semin intercepted an outlet pass and got it to Mathieu Perreault, who was making his season debut. Perreault was tripped and tried to push the puck towards the net, but it glanced off a Thrashers defenseman and back to Semin. He faked Mason with a backhand-forehand move and slid the puck into the open net.
Perreault created the third goal with some patient puckhandling. He collected the puck in the right circle and skated through the slot to his left before sending a pass back toward the right post where Semin calmly chipped a backhanded one-timer into the net for his fourth career hat trick and a 3-2 lead with 6:32 left in regulation.
"I knew I was going back to him," said Perreault, who had two assists in his first game after being one of the last cuts during training camp. "When you got a player like that in the slot, you can't go wrong when you give him the puck. I knew what I was going to do and it ended up pretty good."
Added Semin: "We had played together in the preseason. It looks like we understand each other and we know where each other is. The results kind of paid off tonight."
The Thrashers dominated the first half of this contest, and held a 21-6 advantage in shots at one point. Green did not play in the first 29:41, and the Capitals struggled to keep with the Thrashers while deploying only five defensemen.
Green thought he had scored on his first shift when he directed the puck into the net with his skate (he pushed the skate forward like a soccer player would pass with the inside of his foot). Originally ruled a goal, it was waived off after an official review.
Atlanta was forced to play the last 22-plus minutes with only five defensemen because Dustin Byfuglien was ejected for running into Neuvirth. He earned a five-minute major penalty for charging and a game misconduct, while John Erskine got two minutes for roughing after coming to Neuvirth's defense.
The Capitals were seconds away from a regulation victory but Kane equalized with an empty net at the other end of the ice. Tobias Enstrom sent a shot from the left point toward the net, but it hit a body on the way and ricocheted to the right where Kane knocked it in.
"You're sad when you lose in overtime but what a battle," Atlanta coach Craig Ramsay said. "It was a heck of a hockey game."
Atlanta center Nik Antropov was a healthy scratch for the first time this season. He has no goals and one point in seven games. Defenseman Zach Bogosian missed his fifth straight game with a shoulder injury.