COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) -Alexander Ovechkin and the young Washington Capitals are maturing - and that is definitely not good news for the rest of the NHL.
Ovechkin padded his NHL-leading goal total by scoring twice, including the winner in overtime, to lead the Capitals back from a two-goal deficit to beat the Columbus Blue Jackets 4-3 on Tuesday night.
"It doesn't matter what the score is - 2-0, 4-0 - you've just got to play," the Russian superstar said. "We just have to believe in ourselves. We know we can win the game. It doesn't matter what happens. This was a big game for the young guys. We're just growing up."
Ovechkin netted a low, hard shot from the right circle 2:28 into the overtime after taking a cross-ice pass from Tom Poti. It was his 45th of the season.
Poti, who tied it with 6:53 left in regulation, and Alexander Semin also had goals for the Capitals.
"I'm having a tough time scoring but I think I'm playing really well defensively and helping the team," said Poti, who scored his first goal. "It's a huge two points tonight."
Washington started the night in ninth place in the Eastern Conference, just three points behind Southeast Division co-leaders Carolina and Atlanta.
Rick Nash scored two goals - one on a franchise-first three-on-five disadvantage and the other when a referee got tangled with a Washington defender - for the Blue Jackets, on a season-worst four-game losing skid. Jason Chimera also scored.
|Blue Jackets right wing David Vyborny, left, and Washington Capitals right wing Eric Fehr fight for the puck during the first period on Tuesday, Feb 5, 2008, in Columbus, Ohio. (AP Photo/Paul Vernon)|
The loss could be particularly costly for the Blue Jackets, involved in their first playoff race. Starting goaltender Pascal Leclaire was run into by two players late in the second period and had to be helped off the ice. He came away with a bruised neck and will not travel with the team on Wednesday when it leaves for Phoenix and San Jose.
With the score tied at 2 early in the third period, Nash crossed the blue line with the puck just as defenseman Shaone Morrisonn collided with referee Bill McCreary, effectively taking Morrisonn out of the play. Nash skated around the pileup and beat goaltender Brent Johnson on the stick side for his second of the game and 28th of the season.
Morrisonn slammed his stick to the ice in anger after the goal.
That emotion contrasted with Ovechkin's after he scored the winner. Making his first appearance with the Capitals in Columbus, he skated to the corner and leaped into the air and off the glass in a solitary celebration before his teammates could mob him.
"I thought he struggled more than I've seen him in the first period," Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau said. "He looked tired. I asked him if he was OK and he said he was. He started coming on, getting stronger as the game went on. His shot is just so deadly, that wrist shot of his. I've been here 32 games now and it amazes me every day."
Nash opened the scoring near the end of Washington's lengthy two-man advantage in the first period, smothering Nicklas Backstrom's pass and outracing Backstrom and Ovechkin before beating Johnson. A Columbus player had never scored on a three-on-five disadvantage in the franchise's first seven years and 547 games.
After Chimera made it 2-0, Ovechkin skated up the left wing to the top of the circle, his hard shot eluding Leclaire.
Leclaire, leading the NHL with eight shutouts, was hurt on a Capitals rush when he was hit hard by teammate Jan Hejda and Capitals left wing Quintin Laing at the 15:22 mark of the second. Laing was assessed a minor penalty for goaltender interference.
On the first shot Fredrik Norrena faced after replacing Leclaire, Semin scored on a nifty backhander.
Nash's referee-assisted goal made it 3-2 before Poti beat Norrena on a shot inside the near post.
Ovechkin, a veteran at only 22, was the difference.
"I thought we did a good job on him and he still got two goals," Columbus defenseman Rostislav Klesla said. "He's just a special player, having a great year."
Notes: The Capitals welcomed former first-round pick RW Eric Fehr back with the club for the first time since Feb. 21, 2007, after missing 10 months with a back injury. ... The short-handed goal was Nash's fourth of his career, third this season.