Tuesday's three stars: AO treats Caps to rare Garden party

No. 1 star: Alexander Ovechkin, Washington Capitals

The Caps spent 25 minutes Tuesday playing like a team desperate for some time off. They trailed the Rangers 4-0, had been outscored by the opposition 12-1 over a span of three games and were choosing between one goalie with an injury and another with a confidence crisis. A seventh straight loss at Madison Square Garden seemed certain. Then along came Ovechkin, who entering play had fewer points at the Garden (2) than any other building in which he's played more than two games. Ovechkin fired again and again at Rangers goalie Henrik Lunqvist, registering a season-high 13 shots while scoring Washington's first goal and the third-period marker that set up Shaone Morrisonn's OT winner in a most improbable 5-4 triumph. How active was Ovechkin in the offensive zone? When you factor in his seven shots that missed the net, he single-handedly out-shot the high-octane Penguins, who managed just 15 shots on home ice against Tampa Bay. Alex, enjoy your brief two-day holiday break with Puck Daddy's blessing.

No. 2 star: James Neal, Dallas Stars

Neal, a native of nearby Whitby, Ontario, said it was special just skating on Toronto ice in front of friends and family. That special night got a little sweeter by the period Tuesday, as the rookie scored first, second and third-period goals en route to his first career hat trick. Don't look now, but the Stars are 3-0-1 in their last four and now sit just three points outside the eighth and final Western Conference playoff slot. Chemistry matters.

No. 3 star: Tomas Vokoun, Florida Panthers

Someone had to represent the masked men on a night that featured five shutouts and we'll pick Vokoun, who made it back-to-back perfect efforts by stopping 27 shots in a tight 3-0 victory over his former employers, the Nashville Predators. Vokoun, who served as backup to Craig Anderson in seven straight games through mid-December, can now lay claim to victories over all 30 NHL teams. The lone holdout before Tuesday was the team that signed his checks from 1998-2007. Pre-honorable mention nods go to Tim Thomas (3rd shutout of season), Jon Quick (first career shutout), Evgeni Nabokov (42nd career; 2nd of season) and Mike Smith (2nd of season), Tuesday's other unblemished goalies.

Honorable mention: Ilya Kovalchuk picked up an assist for his 500th point in, coincidentally, his 500th career game. … Clear a spot on the mantel for Andreas Nodl, who scored his first career goal for the Flyers. … Jose Theodore was yanked after allowing three goals on five shots, but deserves credit for re-entering the game in the second period to backstop the Caps' comeback win. … Stick tap to Phil Kessel, who saw his 18-game point streak come to an end. … Jeff Carter's goal was his NHL-leading 26th. … Pavel Datsyuk's two goals and Ty Conklin's 33 saves keyed Detroit's 4-1 win over St. Louis. … Minnesota killed Carolina's full two-minute 5-on-3 advantage while nursing a one-goal lead in the final period of a 3-2 win. … Brett Sutter made it eight members of his family in the NHL and, oh yeah, scored his first career goal in a come-from-behind win for Calgary over Anaheim. … Patrick Marleau helped the Sharks improve to 18-0-2 at home with a three-point night against Vancouver. San Jose's captain now has 40 points, just eight shy of his total from 2007-08. … Ryan Smyth has his first four-point night since the 2006-07 season.

Dishonorable mention: The Toronto crowd turned on Vesa Toskala early, but coach Ron Wilson left his goalie, who has missed Monday's game with a groin injury, in the game long enough to allow three more goals for a 7-0 deficit. … The Islanders have lost 10 straight for the first time since 1997-98. … Columbus has converted just one of its last 15 power-play chances after going 0-5 Tuesday. … Alex Auld looked to be caught off guard on Matt Carle's first-period goal from the blueline, and his night didn't get much better in a 6-4 Ottawa loss to the Flyers. … The Penguins closed a stretch of four games in six days with just three third-period shots in the 2-0 loss to Tampa Bay.

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