-- You knew this was coming.
In his 16th career Stanley Cup Playoffs game, Washington Capitals
super shooter Alex Ovechkin
delivered his breakout performance.
It's not as if Ovechkin disappointed through his first 15 playoff games, but on Monday night he gave everyone something to talk about - for quite a long time.
A long, long time.
He scored three goals for his first career playoff hat trick - and the Caps first playoff hat trick since Al Iafrate got one in 1993 - putting his team on his back and carrying them to a critical 4-3 victory in Game 2 against the Pittsburgh Penguins
Ovechkin one-upped his rival, Sidney Crosby
, by scoring two goals in the third period before Pittsburgh's No. 87 could get one. They each finished with hat tricks, but Ovechkin's rifle of a shot that beat Penguins' goalie Marc-Andre Fleury
with 4:38 to play in the game wound up being the game-winner.
"One of every 10 games he has this kind of game," Capitals center Nicklas Backstrom
said of Ovechkin. "He's just unbelievable. His shot is unbelievable. I've heard from goalies it's kind of hard to [not get hurt by] them. He's unique."
Ovechkin got his night started with a dominant first period, albeit no goals. He played seven shifts totaling 8:21 of ice time in the first and ripped five shots on Fleury, who stoned Ovechkin on a backhanded tip attempt 1:34 into the game and a backdoor one-timer a little over seven minutes later.
Fleury didn't have that kind of good fortune the rest of the way.
Some skilled passing by Sergei Fedorov
and Viktor Kozlov
, Ovechkin's linemates, set No. 8 up for his first goal of the night just 2:18 into the second period. The goal tied the score at 1-1.
Fedorov stopped on a dime along the right wing half boards, twirled and glided a pass to Kozlov in the middle. Kozlov quickly sent the puck over to Ovechkin, who one-timed a blast into the short side.
"You can see how I score goals," Ovechkin said. "My partners do a great job getting me pucks into empty space and that's all I need to score goals. Without them I wouldn't score three goals."
Ovechkin had four more shots on goal and played another eight shifts totaling 8:34 of ice time in the second period. He saved his best for the third.
Of course, that's when the Capitals needed their superstar to shine the most.
"It's important to score goals at the right moment," Capitals goalie Simeon Varlamov said through an interpreter, "which is exactly what Alex Ovechkin
With Evgeni Malkin
in the penalty box for tripping David Steckel
, Backstrom won an in-zone faceoff back to Mike Green
at the right point. The Norris Trophy finalist quickly crossed a pass to Ovechkin, setting No. 8 up for yet another one-timer.
He nailed it again, ripping the puck through Fleury's five-hole with 7:07 to play in the game. The goal put the Capitals up, 3-2, and sent the red-clad crowd at Verizon Center into hysterics.
"Sometimes they have luck and sometimes I have luck," Ovechkin said. "Today I had luck when I scored the second goal. He gave me lots of space and I just shoot on his blocker side."
Ovechkin's third goal came off the rush and, again, his superior shot seemed to surprise Fleury. He skated into the zone against Sergei Gonchar
and used the Penguins defenseman as a screen, shooting the puck around him and over Fleury's catching glove.
Ovechkin finished his career night with three goals on 12 shots and four hits in 23:32 of ice time.
"The best thing about Alex is that he takes the level so high and then there's another night that he takes it higher," Capitals left wing Brooks Laich
said. "I was on the bench for all his goals and I just look up and…just unbelievable. You just watch the replay and the kid's just awesome. He's our leader and he's the difference in the game."
Contact Dan Rosen at email@example.com