WASHINGTON -- With just two home wins in their first 16 games, Alex Ovechkin had forgotten what it was like to hear fans screaming their approval at Verizon Center.
"To be honest with you I kind of forgot what 'Rock the Red' means," Ovechkin said after scoring his first hat trick in more than two years in the Capitals' 5-1 win over the New Jersey Devils.
"The fans, a couple games ago, I said you have to cheer us, you have to push us forward. It's a hard time for us and we need everybody to be involved. Tonight it was that kind of game."
The Capitals broke open a tie game with four goals in the third period, recording their first win since Feb. 14 and improving to 6-10-1 overall. Their 13 points is tied with the Buffalo Sabres for fewest in the Eastern Conference, but they are also just a few wins away from climbing back into the playoff hunt.
"We played a full game," said Capitals forward Matt Hendricks, who assisted on one of Ovechkin's goals. "That's something we need to build on."
The Devils' only offense came from Ilya Kovalchuk, who snapped a wrist shot past Braden Holtby in the final minute of the second period to tie the score 1-1. Steve Bernier also failed on his first career penalty shot, firing a shot into Holtby's left pad in the second period.
"I think after two (periods) we had played a decent road game," Devils coach Peter DeBoer said. "I thought we carried the chances in the second period and we were hoping for another push in the third and we didn't get that."
The Capitals certainly did and it came from their captain.
Through the first 16 games of the season, Ovechkin ranked second in the NHL with 68 shots, but was 56th in goals with five.
After a scoreless first period, Ovechkin got the Capitals on the board 5:20 into the second period. Ovechkin took a cross-ice feed from Mike Ribeiro and snapped a hard shot over a diving Johan Hedberg for a 1-0 lead.
The Devils had a chance to tie with 7:29 remaining in the second period, but Holtby stopped Bernier's penalty shot. Kovalchuk knotted the score with 38 seconds remaining in the period when he took a pass from Andrei Loktionov and beat Holtby high stick side for his seventh goal of the season.
It didn't take long for the Caps to set the tone in the third period.
Ovechkin took a lead pass from Hendricks, rumbled down the right wing, used Anton Volchenkov as a screen and unleashed a shot that looked a lot like Kovalchuk's, beating Hedberg to the far side.
"That was a lot of fun to watch," said Capitals forward Eric Fehr. "That's vintage Alex and I hope we see a lot more of that."
The Caps extended their lead to 3-1 with their first shorthanded goal of the season, 3:56 into the third period, when Fehr went behind the Devils net, stripped Hedberg of the puck and stuffed it into the open net.
"I just wanted to put some pressure on him," Fehr said, "and I got a lucky break."
Ovechkin completed his hat trick with 4:47 remaining in the game when he snapped a pass from Ribeiro over Hedberg's right shoulder for a power-play goal. His three-goal game was his first since Jan. 22, 2011, against the Toronto Maple Leafs, a span of 128 regular season games and another 23 playoff games.
"You have to give (Ovechkin) credit," Hedberg said. "We know what kind of player he is and if you let him execute he's going to hurt you and he did."
The Caps finished off the scoring when Troy Brouwer tied Ovechkin with his eighth of the season with 2:51 to play.
Notes: Capitals defenseman Mike Green took warmups but sat out his third straight game with a groin injury. "He can't be almost ready to go, he's got to feel that he can go play and play 100 percent because I can't have him go two shifts and then get hurt," Capitals coach Adam Oates said before the game. ... Devils defenseman Mark Fayne returned to the lineup in place of Henrik Tallinder, who struggled in Thursday night's 3-2 win over the Capitals. Tallinder has played in 599 NHL games. Fayne, a healthy scratch for three consecutive games, was paired with Anton Volchenkov. ... Boston Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli watched the game from the press box. ... The Devils are back in action Sunday in Newark when they take on the visiting Jets. ... The Capitals are off until Tuesday when they conclude their three-game homestand against the Carolina Hurricanes.