Ovechkin reaches 30 goals again as Capitals beat Flyers
WASHINGTON — Matt Niskanen scored a goal that wowed the Washington Capitals' bench, and Alex Ovechkin scored an atypical goal that put him in elite company in hockey history.
Behind a highlight-reel goal from Niskanen and Ovechkin's 30th of the season, the Capitals came back to beat the Philadelphia Flyers 3-2 in their traditional Super Bowl Sunday matchup. Ovechkin joined Wayne Gretzky and Mike Gartner as the only players in NHL history to score 30 or more goals in his first 11 seasons.
"It's not surprising, and he's going to probably do it another time or two before he's done," coach Barry Trotz said. "Consistency, that's a part of greatness."
Ovechkin deflected Karl Alzner's point shot with his stick in front of Flyers goaltender Steve Mason for his 30th in his 49th game of the season. That tied the score in the second period after a choppy start for the Capitals, so it meant more to Ovechkin in the moment than it does in the scope of the record books.
"You just have to do what you have to do," Ovechkin said. "It was not pretty goal, but it was a really important goal for us. I'll take it."
The NHL-leading Capitals will take whatever offense they can get right now as they're mired in a season-worst 0 for 17 power-play drought. Another 0-for-2 performance Sunday hurt way less because they killed off all five Philadelphia power plays.
Goaltender Braden Holtby was a big part of that as he made eight of his 33 saves on the penalty kill. Those in front of him, namely Niskanen, Alzner and forwards Brooks Laich and Mike Richards, deserved some credit, too, as a 5-on-3 penalty kill changed the momentum of the game.
"We got some good plays there, some good clears killed a lot of the time till there was only a minute or so," Holtby said. "They have a very strong power play, so we knew coming in that success on our PK was going to have to be good, and it was."
With all things even on special teams, the Capitals got two of their goals from defenseman. Dmitry Orlov's fifth of the season came just 1:09 after Ovechkin scored, but it was Niskanen's dipsy-do moves through traffic that got the bulk of the attention.
Five minutes into the third period, Niskanen went end to end, carving through Flyers defenders Michael Del Zotto and Shayne Gostisbehere before beating Mason short side.
"It's like back to the '70s, you know?" Ovechkin said with a big grin. "Bobby Orr, all those guys. It's your puck. Do his job and score goal."
Niskanen shrugged off the comparison to Orr, saying: "I don't have many moves, so that was an accident." Trotz was almost at a loss watching from the bench, and so was Flyers counterpart Dave Hakstol — but for different reasons.
"We just gave up the middle of the rink, not just at our blue line," said Hakstol, whose team got goals from Del Zotto and Nick Schultz. "We gave away the middle of the rink and he made a heck of a play."
Gostisbehere said he was flat-footed on Niskanen's goal, which stood up as the game-winner. It was the Capitals' third straight victory and a blow to the Flyers, who are trying to remain in contention in a competitive Eastern Conference playoff race.
"This is the make-or-break point of our season," Gostisbehere said. "We've just got to find ways to get points and keep leads and stick with it."
Then there's Washington, which extended its lead atop the East and became the first team to 80 points. Even though the Capitals haven't been their sharpest in recent games, they keep finding ways to win by dominating third periods.
"We try to take it to another level," Trotz said. "That next-level type of game seems to kick in."
NOTES: Mason stopped 27 of the 30 shots he faced. ... Capitals forward Andre Burakovsky extended his point streak to seven games. He has points in eight of the past nine. ... Washington improved to 7-2-1 in the second half of back-to-back games. ... Gostisbehere extended his point streak to eight games, the longest in Flyers history among defensemen.
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