It’s 60 and counting for Alex Ovechkin
The Washington superstar became the NHL’s first 60-goal scorer in 12 years when he got his second of the night midway through the third period of the Caps’ 5-3 victory over the Atlanta Thrashers on Friday night.
Ovechkin got his 59th on a screened shot from above the right circle at 15:18 of the first period, giving the Capitals a 1-0 lead. After Atlanta took the lead with three goals in the second period, Ovechkin reached the 60-goal mark when he fired a rebound past Atlanta goaltender Kari Lehtonen at 11:30 of the final period.
''It's always fun to score goals, especially when it's an important game,'' said the 22-year-old star, now in his third NHL season.
The milestone goal energized the Capitals, who tied the score on a goal by Nicklas Backstrom at the 16-minute mark and went ahead 32 seconds later when Backstrom scored again, with Ovechkin earning an assist. Boyd Gordon added an empty-net goal with eight seconds remaining, capping a period in which the Capitals outshot the Thrashers 23-2.
''It was a huge third period for us,'' Backstrom said. ''We talked about going to the net before the third period. Every point is very important right now.''
The victory moved the Capitals into ninth place and within one point of eighth-place Boston in the Eastern Conference. They’re just two points behind seventh-place Philadelphia.
“We have to take every point we can get,'' Ovechkin said.
Before Ovechkin, no NHL player had scored 60 goals in a season since a pair of Pittsburgh Penguins, Mario Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr, did it in 1995-96. Lemieux led the NHL that season with 69 and Jagr was second with 62. Ovechkin, who also tied Dennis Maruk’s team record for goals in a season, has six more games to add to his total.
''I don't think about it. I just do my job,'' he said when asked how many goals he could get this season. ''I don't think about personal goals. It's just the team.”
The only other player with as many as 50 goals this season is Atlanta’s Ilya Kovalchuk, who scored his 50th on Tuesday.
Ovechkin also leads the NHL with 105 points, six more than runner-up Evgeni Malkin of the Penguins. He had 52 goals and 106 points in 2005-06, when he won the Calder Trophy as the NHL’s top rookie, and 46 goals and 92 points last season.
Ovechkin has always played well at against the Thrashers— he has 20 goals and 39 points in 24 games against them, including 14 goals and 25 points in 12 games at Philips Arena.
''I like playing in this building,'' Ovechkin said. ''We started working in the third period. We started to play well. They didn't have a chance to score.''
Ovechkin’s first-period goal gave the Caps the lead, but Atlanta played one of its best periods of the season in the second to grab the lead.
Rookie defenseman Tobias Enstrom tied the game at 4:11 with a power-play goal. Checking center Jim Slater, who had scored just four goals all season, then got two in just over eight minutes to give the Thrashers a 3-1 lead after two periods. Slater scored on a shorthanded breakaway at 7:57, then got his second at 16:06 by beating Cristobal Huet with a shot from the left wing. It was the first two-goal game of his NHL career.
But the Thrashers, who lost their fifth in a row and 13th in 15, did nothing in the third period against the relentless Caps.
“We had a nice lead,” Lehtonen said. “We should keep playing the same way. I don’t know what changed so much in the third period. It’s weird to see how great we can play and how bad we can play in the same game.”
The Thrashers, who’ve outshot their opponents only 10 times all season, ended up being outshot 45-18.
''We've had a hard time, pretty much the whole year, putting together a 60-minute game,'' Atlanta captain Bobby Holik said. ''At least that's one thing we're consistent with.''