Washington, D.C.: Alex Ovechkin did what he does best: score goals. He scored twice in regulation and again in the shootout to lead the Washington Capitals over the Nashville Predators 3-2. Nashville has now lost five games in a row.
After the Great Eight beat Predator goalie Dan Ellis with a backhand deke, he calmly buried the puck into the twine. Then, something amazing happened.
Hats rained down on the ice from the red-clad frenzied crowd. They proclaimed a hat trick for a goal that would not count in Ovechkin's totals.
"I don't think it's ever been done in the history of hockey," coach Bruce Boudreau said after the game. "It's a Washington original."
Boudreau could joke a little in the post-game press conference after his young goaltender, Semyon Varlamov, blanked the Predators in the shootout. But the game was no laughing matter.
Washington shot out to a 2-0 lead on the strength of Ovechkin's two first-period goals. But as is becoming routine, the Caps could not finish off a hard-working, but talent-inferior Nashville team.
The Predators had several decent scoring chances in the first period, including two short-handed breakaway opportunities that Varlamov came up big on.
Had the young netminder given up one of the breakaways, we might have been talking about a completely different game.
In the second period, Shea Weber fired a laser from 40 feet past a defenseless Varlamov on a nice drop pass from Tomas Hornqvist at 14:29, and J.P. Dumont flicked a shot from the goal line that deflected off defenseman Brian Pothier and between Varlamov's legs just minutes later.
Just like that, the game was tied. Washington had fairly dominated the proceedings, yet found themselves scratching and clawing in the second half of the game.
Boudreau went to three lines in the third period, and it was the checking line of David Steckel, Matt Bradley and Quintin Laing that bore the brunt of keeping Nashville off the board.
"When we went down to three lines, we had to keep them [on the ice]," Boudreau said. "They were the most dominant line on the ice."
Mike Knuble, who assisted on both of Ovechkin's goals, spoke about the problem this team is having putting games away.
"It could be a lot different feeling in here right now, if we had let this one slip. When you get up 2-0, you can't them them hang around too long, that's when teams are dangerous."
"You gotta get that third one to finish them."
Boudreau echoed his veteran winger.
"We talked between periods about having the killer instinct and burying them. If we had gotten that next goal, we think at that time they might have said, 'Here we go again'."
Center Brendan Morrison joined the chorus. "We had them 2-0 there, and they are a team that is mentally battling themselves right now," Morrison said. "I think if we get that third goal, the flood gates open. But we didn't, and we let them back in it."
They did not get that third goal, unlike Thursday night against San Jose. Instead, they let an over-matched, poor offensive team hang around and gain a point they had no business accepting, putting pressure on a goaltender whose confidence has been shaky due to two poor outings previously.
But Varlamov did his job in overtime and the shootout, and the Caps got just enough from the best player in the game to hand Nashville their fifth consecutive defeat, regardless of taking a point in the Capitals building.
"We controlled the game in the first period and a half," Ovechkin said.
After Nashville got their two markers in the second, the team really bore down and kept the score even, narrowly averting disaster and claiming the second point in the shootout.
But it shouldn't have come to that.