Tonight the stars aligned for the Washington Capitals. Alex Ovechkin would take the lead in both the Rocket Richard (50 goals) and Art Ross (109 points), reach the 50 goal mark in 4 of his first 5 seasons (only accomplished by Mike Bossy and Wayne Gretzky) and had a 3 point night. Nick Backstrom would reach the 100 point milestone in a season with 2 goals and a helper. Alex Semin got the playmaker, three assists. The Caps would once again save their best for the third period as they opened up against a divisional foe, the Atlanta Thrasers, 5-2. And all on the night in which the NHL awarded the Caps with the President's Trophy.
And both Ovechkin and Backstrom realized the implications of having a big night ahead.
"When I came in at five o'clock, [Ovi] said to me 'Hey Backie, are we going to score tonight?'" Backstrom said of Ovechkin approaching him before the game. "I said, 'Why not?'"
Backstrom would get the scoring started thanks in part to his line-mate Ovi. Ovechkin shot the puck close in, but miss the net wide. The bouncing puck dropped back in front of the net where Ovi tried to bury the shot, but it was blocked aside by a Thrasher defender and the puck went to an open Backstrom who buried his 32nd goal of the season. The goal would give Backstrom his 99th point. The Caps would take the 1-0 lead into the first intermission.
The Caps looked as if they were going to dominate the rest of the night, but in the second period Evgeny Artuykin sent a pass to the slot. The puck hit Brendan Morrison and beat an unsuspecting Jose Theodore. Then the Thrashers would get a shortie after Ovechkin miss handled the puck. Atlanta's penalty killer Clarke MacArthur took the puck in alone on Theo beating him over his right shoulder top shelf. The Thrashers found themselves with a 2-1 lead. With some spectacular goaltending from Ondrej Pavelec, the Thrashers found some life.
"[Ovechkin] hates making mistakes that causes goals," Boudreau said of Ovechkin's flub on the power play. "I heard him between periods apologizing to Jose. He knew he made a mistake and he went out and tried a little harder."
Ovechkin would make up for his mistake. He would score his 49th goal as Alex Semin found him open at top of the circles. Ovi would pound a one timer along the ice to the back of the net and tying the game up late in the second period.
The Thrashers would get into some penalty trouble in the third period, but the Caps power play was not it's sharpest. They would let a 5 on 3 go to waste even though getting three shots on net. Scott Walker would take an interference call to negate the rest of the power play after that. But it wouldn't take long for the Caps to strike 5 on 5.
On a 3 on 2 rush, the Caps' top line would once again go to work. Backstrom would pass it to the right to Alex Semin who found Ovechkin cutting into the middle. Ovechkin made no mistake beating Pavelec for his 50th goal of the season. The play also resulted in Backstrom getting a career high 100 points for the season.
"I am sitting there going, 'Okay, Nicky just got his 100th, Ovi just got his 50th, Who picks up the puck?'" Caps bench boss Bruce Boudreau said of the record setting play for both players.
Turns out the two gave up a big hug and promised to share the puck. It was not clear if sharing meant the puck was going under a saw or not.
While it was a bright spot for the Capitals, it was the straw that broke the camel's back for the Thrashers.
"We had two or three chances in their zone and they came out on a three on two and [Ovechkin] made a pretty good shot. It was tough to muster anything after that," Thrashers coach John Anderson said.
From then on, the Caps just dominated the play and pace. The line of Jason Chimera, Eric Belanger and Tomas Fleischmann wore down the Thrashers' defenders with some great cycling. Chimera would end up top shelfing a one-timer as a result.
Less than a minute later, Nick Backstrom would score after a Semin shot rebounded in front of the net. Atlanta's defenders seemed to take their time trying to clear the rebound, but Backstrom beat Ron Hainsey to the puck and slipped it under Pavelec to make it 5-2 and putting the game away.
Theodore would get to 30 wins in the season, marking a goal his coach wanted for him. He stopped 29 shots in the Capitals win.
"I felt pretty good in the first period," Theodore said. "From there I just pretty much kept my focus for sixty minutes. In the third I made a couple of big saves and after that the guys just picked it up and scored some big goals. It was great to see."
His counterpart also played well, even though the Caps lit him up for 5 goals. Pavelec turned aside 42 shots, including stoning Alex Semin eleven times as the Caps' forward was gunning for his 40th goal of the season. Semin instead would have to settle for 3 assists and the game's third star of the night.
"They played a pretty good game throughout," Anderson said of the Caps explosive third period. "We kept up with them for two periods, but they're a bit of a juggernaut and we are not the only team they have done that too."
It would be a fitting cap to a spectacular regular season, but the Capitals have one more game. They face the defensively tight Boston Bruins. Semin has another chance to get to the big 4 - 0. He has not scored against Boston this season, but has accumulated 4 assists in three games. The Caps could still face Boston in the postseason depending on a few factors.
"We are constantly looking at it," Boudreau said of who might end up in the eighth spot and be the Capitals first opponent in the post season. "Obviously the quicker we know the more preparation we can do. But it is going to come down to Sunday now."
- "It's not the one we want," Boudreau said of Ovechkin not touching the President's Trophy at the ceremony at the beginning of the game. "It's one we are glad we have. Not that I am superstitious or anything but if you are not suppose to touch it, you are not suppose to touch it."
- Backstrom not only picked up his 100th point but he has scored 3 points in three straight games (3 goals, 6 assists). Semin would also finish with 3 points and has 7 points in his last 4 games.