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Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Cap fills hat, tips lid to head coach after Washington win

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WASHINGTON -- After producing his first hat trick in more than two years, Alex Ovechkin wanted to give some credit to Washington Capitals coach Adam Oates.

"He's that kind of person," Ovechkin explained, "who gives me belief all the time."

So when Ovechkin texted Oates the other day, lamenting that it seemed as though the puck simply did not want to go in the net, the head coach replied: "It's going to come."

Sure did Saturday, over and over again. Ovechkin scored three goals in a game for the first time since Jan. 22, 2011, leading the last-place Capitals to a much-needed 5-1 victory over the New Jersey Devils.

"For a player, if you feel that kind of trust from a coach, coaching staff, it's very important," Ovechkin said after his 11th career hat trick. "And teammates see it."

He's been something less than the player who stormed into the NHL by averaging 53 goals over his first five seasons, with two MVP awards. That average dipped to 35 goals the past two seasons, and he hadn't even scored two goals in a game since a loss to Winnipeg on March 23, 2012. He entered Saturday with only five goals this season -- going without a point in half of Washington's previous 16 games, including Thursday's 3-2 loss to New Jersey -- but broke out in a big way.

"All I can tell you is that we have to find a way to slow him down and stop him," Devils coach Peter DeBoer said, "and we didn't do that."

Not even close. Alternating between his customary left wing and the right side, precisely how Oates wants, Ovechkin put Washington ahead 1-0 by sending a one-timer past Hedberg from the left circle. Ovechkin celebrated by dropping to a knee and pumping his right fist before spinning and skating over to the boards to slam against the glass with both gloves.

"You want to see your go-to guy get some," Oates said. "Him scoring first for us gets the place going. The fans love him. The place is rocking. It obviously helps the team."

-- The Associated Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 24, 2013 B6

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