WASHINGTON — After getting an Olympic send-off from Secretary of State John Kerry, Alex Ovechkin scored his NHL-leading 40th goal with 12:14 remaining Thursday night as the Washington Capitals rallied from a third-period deficit for a 4-2 win over the Winnipeg Jets.
Ovechkin put the Capitals ahead by lifting the puck over a pile of bodies in the crease, following up after Nicklas Backstrom had taken two whacks at a rebound before sliding into goaltender Ondrej Pavelec.
Troy Brouwer scored twice, Tom Wilson had a goal, and Braden Holtby made 34 saves for the Capitals, who are trying to generate at least a modicum of momentum headed into the Olympic break. Washington had dropped 10 of its previous 13, including a 1-0 shutout loss to the New York Islanders on Tuesday.
Bryan Little and Dustin Byfuglien scored, and Pavelec stopped 26 shots for the Jets, who had a three-game winning streak snapped.
Winnipeg is nevertheless 9-3 since coach Claude Noel was fired on Jan. 12 and replaced by Paul Maurice, putting the team on the cusp of the playoff race.
With the NHL’s Olympic break beginning after Saturday’s games, Kerry was on hand to recognize the four players from each team headed to Sochi. He performed a ceremonial puck drop at center ice between the two U.S. players, Winnipeg’s Blake Wheeler and Washington’s John Carlson.
While the familiar goal-scorer — Ovechkin — provided game’s go-ahead goal, it was an unlikely trio that tied the game for Washington early in the third period.
Julien Brouillette and Patrick Wey, both recalled from the AHL earlier in the day because coach Adam Oates had run out of defensemen, each got their first NHL assist on a play in which Wey passed to Brouillette, who then deliberately shot wide of the net to set up a carom that eventually made its way to Wilson, who scored only the second goal of his career.
The Capitals scored first, when Brouwer slipped away from his man in front of the crease while Casey Wellman and Marcus Johansson worked behind the net to maintain the puck. Johansson fed Brouwer for the goal less than 5 minutes into the game.
The Jets tied it when Washington’s Martin Erat finally put the puck into a net — albeit for the wrong team. A shot from Little went off Holtby’s mask and rebounded onto the stick of the Czech forward, who inadvertently swept the puck past his goalie in one smooth motion. Erat has 21 assists for the Capitals this season, but has yet to score a goal for his team.
The Jets dominated the second period, outshooting the Capitals 16-7, and took the lead on an odd-man rush when Johansson lost track of Byfuglien, who took the feed from Devin Setoguchi and tucked his shot just under the crossbar.
But the Capitals scored three times in the third, with Brouwer getting the insurance goal with 4:45 remaining.