Playing two games within 22 hours, the Capitals showed some fatigue - and lack of discipline - in their game Sunday afternoon in south Florida, losing an early 2-0 lead to the Panthers, thanks in part to giving the Panthers eight power plays on the afternoon. But Alex Ovechkin was able to come to the team's rescue, scoring his eighth career hat trick, including a sharp angle wrist shot past Tomas Vokoun with 2:31 to play in a 4-2 Washington win to extend the Capitals' lead in the Southeast to 13 points over the 'Cats.
In a three-game road trip that began with Washington giving their opponent every chance to win in New York with 10 minutes in penalties in the final stanza, the Caps did nearly the same in Florida, taking three minors in the third period with one being cashed in for the equalizer. But they were able to kill off 7-of-8 for the game, and set up Ovechkin's dramatic game-winner with 151 seconds left in the contest.
The one drawback for the Caps was one night after breaking the NHL record for consecutive games with a goal by a defenseman Saturday night in Tampa Bay, Mike Green was finally held without a goal, leaving him one game shy of the franchise mark set by Mike Gartner and Alan Haworth over two decades ago.
Alexander Ovechkin scored his first goal of the night with a power-play goal in the first period, blasting it past Tomas Vokoun for a 1-0 lead with 4:22 left in the stanza.
Eric Fehr tallied in his fourth straight game just :30 into the second period as the Caps built a 2-0 lead and were in control of the contest, but then proceeded to let the Panthers come back to tie the game.
After Jose Theodore made some nice saves (and got some fortunate bounces) as the Panthers began to turn on the heat, Florida got on the board with 7:52 left in the second as Michael Frolik scored with a shot past Theodore. Then the Caps proceeded to hand Florida four straight power plays with a chance to draw even, which they did.
After the Caps killed off a late penalty to Shaone Morrisonn in the period, a delay-of-game penalty on Sergei Fedorov in the opening minute of the third turned into a Nathan Horton tally 1:29 into the third on a goal-mouth scramble to even the score at two on Florida's sixth power play of the contest.
Nicklas Backstrom got another delay penalty by lofting the puck over the side glass 6:33 into the period, and Horton's bid to give Florida the lead hit off the post halfway through the extra-man advantage, but the Caps were able to kill off the infraction. Alexander Semin then took a goaltender interference penalty a couple of minutes later, but the penalty killers were able to hold the tie.
Then, with the puck deep in the corner near the goal line, Ovechkin deked past Jay Bouwmeester at the faceoff dot, using him as a screen and rifled it past Vokoun for his 40th goal of the campaign.
Ovechkin then added one more for good measure, notching his 41st with an empty netter from deep in the Caps' zone off the boards, just hitting the post and rolling in for his 41st of the year.
Ovechkin now holds a seven-goal edge in the lead for the Richard Trophy, as Zach Parise and Jeff Carter were both held scoreless in their teams' respective wins this afternoon and are stuck at 34 goals.
With the win, the Caps are even with New Jersey for second place in the East - although the Devils hold the tiebreaker with one more win than Washington.
Washington returns home after an outing with the team's dads Monday, and open a five-game homestand that begins with a date with the slumping Canadiens Wednesday night at Verizon Center at an unusual start time of 7:30PM. The Caps will play nine of their next 10 games on home ice, with a March 1st date in Boston being the only road contest sandwiched between two lengthy homestands.
The Caps then will play 10 of their last 15 away from home ice.