After suffering through two tough losses to the Devils, the Capitals concluded their season slate with New Jersey with a supercharged third period Saturday afternoon. Led by their captain, Alex Ovechkin, Washington broke open a 1-1 game with four unanswered goals in a 16-minute span and cruised to a 5-1 victory.
The Devils gave Martin Brodeur the day off in goal. Johan Hedberg, who beat the Caps twice in this building a season ago, would get the starting nod. The home team went back to Braden Holtby in the net for a sixth straight start.
Both goalies were unblemished through the opening period. The Caps threw 11 shots on Hedberg and generally had a much better flow to their game than they did in the first period Thursday against these same Devils.
The Caps would strike first for the 7th straight outing when Ovechkin drilled the first goal of what turned out to be a big day for himself. Mike Ribeiro, who had a tremendous stick-handling afternoon, skipped out of traffic and slipped a soft cross-ice pass to Ovechkin was drifting off to the right of Hedberg. The goalie had no chance of recovering in time to catch up with a one-time rocket of a shot.
Washington carried that 1-0 lead deep into period two getting several key stops from Holtby.
The most important save of the day came against Steve Bernier, who was awarded a penalty shot at 12:31 of the second period. The Caps questioned whether Bernier deserved the penalty shot in the first place. He definitely was in the clear behind the defenders and was tripped up, but it appeared he was able to re-gather the puck far from the cage with a quality chance before the play concluded.
Referee Brian Pochmara said penalty shot, and Bernier went in one-on-on with Holtby who stood his ground and would not allow the Devils shooter to find any room between his leg pads.
New Jersey would equalize, however, before the frame was complete. Ilya Kovalchuk snapped a wicked shot through a slight screen past the stick side of Holtby to tie it up with only 38 seconds left in period two.
The Caps quickly ended any suspense in the third. Matt Hendricks sent Ovechkin down the right-wing boards with a nice pass. Alex worked the puck into shooting space and zipped a drive between the shins of defender Anton Volchenkov and past a startled Hedberg at 1:23 of the third.
After the Caps were whistled for another troublesome delay of game penalty, fortune would smile on them.
Eric Fehr stole the puck from Hedberg behind the Devils net and beat both the defender and the netminder to the near post for a lay-up shorthanded goal at 3:56.
The onslaught continued with the Caps on the power play 11 minutes later. The prettiest goal of the day resulted in the 11th hat trick in the career of Alex Ovechkin.
Nicklas Backstrom and Mike Ribeiro set it up while passing around the perimeter of the Devils shorthanded unit. It would be Ribeiro who feathered the puck to the weak side where Ovechkin snuck in close and drilled a shot into the top portion of the goal.
The Washington power play, which has been on an extraordinary roll of late, would cash in for the final goal on the afternoon. Ovechkin snapped a centering pass to Troy Brouwer who was parked in front of Hedberg. Brouwer slid a simple re-direct past Hedberg at 17:09.
The man-advantage group for the Caps has clicked on 12 of its last 26 chances, good for an unheard of 46.2% success rate.
Hopefully the boys saved some ammunition for Tuesday night, when they will meet the Carolina Hurricanes for the first time this winter. Coverage of that one begins at 6:30 p.m. with Caps Central on Comcast SportsNet.