Washington Capitals left wing Alex Ovechkin, on ice, of Russia, is congratulated by teammates Alexander Semin (28), also of Russia, and Nicklas Backstrom (19), of Sweden, after scoring a goal on Montreal Canadiens goalie Carey Price, left, during the first period of an NHL hockey game Wednesday, Feb. 18, 2009, in Washington. THE ASSOCIATED PRESS/Haraz N. Ghanbari
WASHINGTON - Alex Ovechkin was knocked to the ice but still managed to score Wednesday night as the Washington Capitals beat the struggling Montreal Canadiens 4-3 in a shootout.
The NHL's reigning MVP used his backhand to bank the puck off the boards to get around Roman Hamrlik at the blue line, skated through the faceoff circle and kept going even after he was jabbed off his skates by Kyle Chipchura.
Sliding toward the crease, Ovechkin then poked the puck past the right pad of goaltender Carey Price to score.
"It shouldn't surprise any of us," teammate Mike Green said. "He loves to score, and he's going to score no matter how it goes in - if it's on his stomach, back, whatever, he's going to try to score.
"I think I was more impressed with the backhand around the defenceman."
Chipchura's momentum dislodged the net after the puck went in, while Ovechkin remained sitting on the ice to receive a mob of celebrating teammates.
Ever the showman, he put his hand to his ear to encourage the crowd's cheers after a replay was shown on the video scoreboard.
The goal ranks in the same league as Ovechkin's sliding, stick-behind-the-head classic against the Phoenix Coyotes on Jan. 16, 2006, one of the all-time favourites.
"I've seen that one about 1,000 times on TV," Washington coach Bruce Boudreau said, "but (tonight's goal) was as amazing a goal as I've ever seen."
The only thing missing was that Ovechkin didn't use his favourite English adjective - "sick" - to describe the moment.
"Normal goal. It's not sick," he tried to say with a straight face.
And what about that pass to himself?
"You have to try something new," said Ovechkin, on pace to score 60-plus goals for the second consecutive season.
"Sometimes I try in practice, and Bruce says 'What are you doing?' And I say 'Sometimes I need to change my game,' so I'm changing and it's working."
Alexander Semin and Nicklas Backstrom scored in the shootout for the Capitals, while goaltender Jose Theodore, a former Hab, clinched the victory by stopping shots from Tomas Plekanec and Andrei Markov.
The Canadiens took a 3-2 lead on Plekanec's powerplay goal with 11:03 to play in regulation, but the Capitals forced overtime when David Steckel scored with 2:39 remaining.
Plekanec, returning from a two-game suspension for tripping Denis Grebeshkov in the Canadiens' 7-2 loss to Edmonton on Feb. 11, also put a shot off the post in the final seconds of overtime.
Backstrom scored in the first period for the Capitals, who have won three straight, 10 of 14 and moved clear of New Jersey into sole possession of second place in the Eastern Conference.
They improved to 23-4-1 at the Verizon Centre as they opened a season-long, five-game homestand.
"Who am I kidding? We're looking at what the standing is," Boudreau said. "It's getting late in February.
"I love looking at standings and counting games down. Races is what makes it exciting, whether it's hockey, basketball, baseball. I think that makes it a lot of fun this time of year."
Christopher Higgins and Andrei Kostitsyn scored power-play goals for the faltering Canadiens, who have lost 11 of 14.
Markov assisted on all three Montreal goals.
Montreal played without all-star right wing Alex Kovalev, who was told by the team to stay home during the team's two-game swing through Washington and Pittsburgh in hopes the rest will help him snap out of a slump.
"I thought overall we played a great game against a team that was playing extremely well lately and that's been tough to beat at home," Montreal coach Guy Carbonneau said.
"We've been struggling lately, so to come here and play the way we've done is really encouraging."
Notes: The game was the 6,000th in Canadiens history, including 150 in the National Hockey Association from 1910-17. The franchise was founded on Dec. 4, 1909. ... Mathieu Schneider, acquired from Atlanta on Monday for a pair of draft picks, had one assist for the Canadiens. ... Montreal is 1-3-1 with one game left on its season-longest six-game road stretch. ... The Capitals have won 12 in a row at home against Eastern Conference opponents. ... The Capitals won the season series 3-1, beating the Canadiens three times in a season for the first time since 2000-01. ... Washington has scored in the first period in 10 straight games. ... Ovechkin has a 10-game point streak (11 goals, five assists). ... Capitals RW Eric Fehr's four-game goal-scoring streak came to an end.