Alex Ovechkin tied the game with 30 seconds left in regulation and added the winner - his third goal of the game - six seconds into overtime to power the Washington Capitals to a 3-2 win over Ilya Kovalchuk and the Atlanta Thrashers on Friday night.
In a matchup of young Russian stars, Ovechkin's second career hat trick gave him 21 goals, while Kovalchuk, who had an assist, had each of his seven shots on goal denied.
"He's the kind of game-breaker every coach dreams about," Washington coach Glen Hanlon said of Ovechkin. "If you don't have someone to score goals for you when the game is on the line, it's extremely difficult to win games."
Ovechkin was more than willing to take the crucial shots.
"I just try to shoot the puck and just score goals, and today I had luck," Ovechkin said.
Ovechkin stole an apparent victory from Atlanta, taking the puck from Niclas Havelid following the faceoff to open overtime and scoring unassisted.
"Ovechkin never ceases to surprise us," Hanlon said. "He found some space and . . . was focused to score."
Ovechkin's first three-goal game, also in a 3-2 overtime win, came Jan. 13, 2006, at Anaheim.
"When he wants to - and that's 99.9 per cent of the time - he can make things happen," Washington captain Chris Clark said of Ovechkin.
Jean-Pierre Vigier gave Atlanta a 2-1 lead with less than six minutes left in regulation, but it was Vigier's two-minute penalty for delaying the game by sending the puck over the glass that set up Ovechkin's power-play goal at the end of regulation.
"We won a game in Toronto because of a penalty like that, and now we lost one," Thrashers coach Bob Hartley said. "It's a game of mistakes and no one does it on purpose.
"It's a real tough loss to digest because I felt that we could not have played better in the third period."
The Thrashers suffered their fourth straight loss and fell to 4-1 against Washington this season.
Brent Johnson, starting ahead of Olie Kolzig for the second straight game, made 28 saves for the Capitals.
Jon Sim scored Atlanta's first goal.
Vigier, who had a second-period scoring attempt nullified by a teammate's incidental contact with the goalie, scored his fourth goal in the third on a wrist shot from the right circle. The shot skimmed between Johnson's legs.
There was no apparent carry-over from the last meeting between the teams Nov. 22 in Washington, a 4-2 Thrashers win that included nine major penalties for fighting. Washington's Donald Brashear was suspended for three games, while teammate Brian Sutherby and Atlanta's Scott Mellanby each earned one-game suspensions.
Hanlon and Hartley were fined US$30,000 and $10,000, respectively, for shouting at each other from the benches and after the game.
On Friday night, Brashear drew a two-minute penalty for roughing about three minutes into the game, but the officials prevented minor skirmishes from escalating.
"The last game against Atlanta, it was just a game, it was just a moment," Ovechkin said. "I think both teams just forgot it and we just played hockey."
Ovechkin gave the Capitals a 1-0 lead with a power-play shot past Kari Lehtonen from the right circle in the first period.
Atlanta also used a man advantage to pull even in the second. Sim's power-play goal went under Johnson's glove 11:08 into the period tied it 1-1.
The Thrashers attempted to take the lead late in the period, but Vigier's would-be goal was disallowed due to incidental goal contact by Atlanta's Eric Boulton. There was no penalty on the play.
Notes: Washington F Richard Zednik missed his fifth game with a groin injury . . . Atlanta captain Scott Mellanby returned from the flu . . . The Capitals have outscored opponents 37-24 in the first period, including 13-3 in their last eight games.