Ovechkin scores hat trick to lead Capitals past Maple Leafs

Alex Ovechkin scored the empty-netter to finish off his hat trick, helping the Capitals get by the Maple Leafs with a 4-2 win.

TORONTO — Alex Ovechkin had a simple explanation for his performance Saturday night.

Ovechkin scored a hat trick to lead the Washington Capitals past the Toronto Maple Leafs 4-2 at Air Canada Centre.

"Sometimes you are just feeling it," said the Russian forward.

He scored two of his three goals in the opening period for the Capitals (14-10-1). Jakub Vrana also chipped in and Braden Holtby made 27 saves for his 13th win of the season.

Jake Gardiner and Nikita Zaitsev replied in the third period for Toronto (15-9-1). Curtis McElhinney stopped 17 shots in defeat.

Ovechkin’s first goal occurred when he skated with the puck through the neutral zone before taking a wrist shot from just outside the left face-off circle to beat McElhinney at 12:03.

"(Feeling like I was) back to 19 years old," Ovechkin said when asked about his opening goal.

It was Ovechkin’s 574th goal of his career, which pushed him past Mike Bossy for 21st all-time.

"We talk about Bossy, a Hall-of-Famer, as one of the greatest goal scorers of all-time," Capitals coach Barry Trotz said. "We talk about Alex in the same breath."

Ovechkin scored his second goal at 19:13 while on the power play. The goal was Ovechkin’s 217th of his career with the man advantage, which moved him into a tie with Calgary Flames forward Jaromir Jagr for the most among active NHL players.

Ovechkin added an empty-netter to give him 18 goals this season, moving him past Tampa Bay Lightning forward Nikita Kucherov for the league lead.

When he conducted his post-game interviews, standing next to Ovechkin was 13-year-old Alex Luey. The Niagara Falls, Ont., native lost part of his leg to cancer. Last month, The Capitals forward learned Luey was cancer free and invited the Ovechkin fan to attend Saturday’s game.

"I told him before the game if I’m going to score a goal, it will be for him," Ovechkin said.

Instead of one goal, Luey witnessed three.

"It’s incredible what he did for me and for the team, it’s awesome," Luey said.

Vrana scored the Capitals’ third goal of the game at 11:02 of the second period for his seventh of the season.

T.J. Oshie collected three assists on Washington’s final three goals of the game.

"I think we’re getting better starts and that obviously helped us tonight," Oshie said.

The Leafs scored their first goal of the game at 1:24 of the third when Gardiner’s shot from the point cleared through a screen in front of Holtby.

Zaitsev made it a one-goal game at 6:09 when his backhand shot went off the stick of Capitals defenceman Taylor Chorney and into the net.

"We had a real push at the end of the period and then obviously a real push in the third," Leafs coach Mike Babcock said. "The bottom line is you can’t be behind and catch up very often in the National Hockey League."

The Leafs outshot the Capitals 29-21.

"I thought we played good," Babcock added. "I thought neither team was running around crazy."

Notes: Toronto forwards Matt Martin and Dominic Moore along with defenceman Roman Polak were in the lineup. All three were healthy scratches in the Leafs’ 5-4 win over the Carolina Hurricanes on Friday. … Leafs forward Nazem Kadri had his career-high point streak halted at nine games. … Capitals forward Tyler Graovac played in his first game since sustaining an upper-body injury against the Leafs on Oct. 17.


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