Finish, With Flourish – For 56 and a half minutes on Tuesday, the Capitals did lots of things right. They worked hard, won battles along the walls and down low, possessed the puck, got pucks deep, got pucks to the net and on the net.
On the downside, they made one glaring defensive miscue, had all kinds of trouble finishing, and couldn’t get much going on their power play. For all their hard work, they were minutes away from suffering a second straight home-ice shutout to the New York Islanders, who are weeks away from a fifth straight cellar-dwelling finish in the NHL’s Atlantic Division.
Rather than get frustrated over their fates, the Caps kept at it and kept the faith. That perseverance was rewarded with a 3-2 victory over the Isles, a victory pulled from the flames of defeat in the waning seconds of the contest.
“It’s nice to fight back and win hockey games,” notes caps center Brooks Laich. “It’s a pretty exciting game. [Caps captain Alex Ovechkin] scores a huge goal at the end. You look at guys’ faces; it was excitement, enjoyment, relief, accomplishment. There was everything in there. We were scrappy. It’s nice to see perseverance and [scrappiness]. And now we’ve got to do it again. We’re playing another good team on Friday.”
Washington scored three times in a span of 5:04, culminating with Ovechkin’s game-winner at 1:35 of the overtime session.
The Caps were never down on their luck, even when they were down in the game despite playing well.
“We were playing such good hockey,” says Caps winger Troy Brouwer, whose two tallies late in the third pushed the game to overtime. ”We knew it was just going to be a matter of time. We came in here after the second period with smiles on our faces. We were having fun playing hockey even though we were down by a goal. We were having fun out there and we were playing good hockey. We were just excited to go out and have a good third period and try and win the game.”
Brouw Beater – Brouwer’s 17 goals are tied for second on the team, but he was minutes away from going through the month of February without a tally. Brouwer’s two goals tonight came in the final 3:29 of regulation and they were scored in a span of 3:03.
Prior to tonight’s game, Brouwer’s last previous goal came on Jan. 31 at Tampa Bay.
This One Goes To Eleven – Ovechkin’s overtime tally was the 11th extra-session game-winner in his seven-year NHL career. Among all active players, only New Jersey’s Patrik Elias (15) has more career overtime game-winners with the same club. His 11 overtime game-winners are a Washington career franchise record.
“I think my game today was not that good,” says Ovechkin. “But I tried to do my best. Sometimes when you feel great, your hands just can’t handle the puck well, especially in the second period when I made a couple mistakes on the power play. But it’s a huge victory.”
It’s The Little Things – Two guys who never cheat in the work ethic department – Jason Chimera and Jeff Halpern – were instrumental in sparking Brouwer’s two goals.
Chimera outraced the Islanders defense to the puck to negate an icing call on the first Caps goal, tipping the disc to Mathieu Perreault along the left wing wall in the New York end of the ice. Perreault fired a perfect pass to Brouwer, who merely needed to get a stick on it to tuck it behind Islanders goaltender Evgeni Nabokov.
“It took a special play of Chimmer forechecking hard,” says Caps coach Dale Hunter of the play that led to Washington’s first goal, “he turned the puck over, Matty making a great pass and Brouwer stopping at the goal line. It took three good plays. They weren’t going to give us an odd-man rush, though. It had to be a dump, and then hard work to get it and going to the net hard.”
With Caps goalie Michal Neuvirth pulled for an extra attacker in the game’s waning seconds, right-handed pivot Halpern was tasked with an offensive zone draw in the right-side circle against New York’s Frans Nielsen. Halpern sprawled out to leverage the puck away from the Isles center, drawing it to Laich. Laich dished to Wideman, who passed back to Laich, who shot from the half-wall through a screen. Brouwer got a piece of it, and it went past Nabokov.
From draw to red light, a mere 6.3 seconds elapsed, and the game was tied.
“It’s huge,” says Hunter of Halpern’s face-off win. “It’s a big part of his game. He’s one of the best in the league. He goes out there to win that draw, and they’re bearing down on it also. He gives us a chance to get a shot to the net, we create traffic and that was the difference.”
New York coach Jack Capuano was philosophical about the game and the plays that led to the Washington goals.
“From the start, they came out hard and they established their forecheck,” he said of the Capitals. “They’ve got some big bodies and they owned us down low. I think once we weathered the storm after the first 10 or 12 minutes, especially coming out in the second period, I thought we made some adjustments. We did some good things in the neutral zone and we executed a little bit more.”
“It’s a two-goal game and it’s a negated icing,” notes Capuano of the first Caps goal. “It’s a tough one to give up, there’s no question. And then they pull their goalie and they win a key draw. We’re still in pretty good position, but it had eyes. Brouwer got a stick on it in front of the net.
“In overtime, your best players are your best players. [Ovechkin] took over the game.”
Déjà Vu All Over Again – Last season, the Caps hosted the Islanders at Verizon Center a day after the NHL’s 2011 trade deadline. With Nathan Lawson minding the twine for the Islanders that night, the visitors nursed a one-goal lead (1-0) into the waning seconds of regulation.
The Caps pulled goaltender Neuvirth for an extra skater, and struck for the tying tally at 19:12 of the third, evening the game at 1-1 on a goal by Laich, set up by Jason Arnott who had been obtained in a deal with the Devils just over 24 hours earlier.
Ovechkin ended that one at 1:55 of overtime when he beat Lawson for his 25th goal of the season. The Caps scored twice in a span of 2:43 that night to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.
Last March 1, Ovechkin’s overtime game-winner at 1:55 of the extra session was an unassisted tally. Tonight’s goal came at 1:35 of overtime and was also unassisted.
Neuvirth’s Net Worth – Neuvirth won his third straight start and earned his ninth victory of the season in tonight’s game. He played well, keeping the Caps within striking distance until they could solve Nabokov.
Since the calendar turned to 2012, Neuvirth is now 4-2-1 in 10 appearances (seven starts) with a shutout, a 2.18 GAA and a .928 save pct. Neuvirth has allowed just five goals in his last three starts.
Nabbed – Heading into Tuesday’s tilt with the Caps Nabokov had the Caps’ number. He owned a 10-1 lifetime record in 11 career starts against Washington, with a pair of shutouts, a 1.99 GAA and a .933 save pct. Most of that stretch came while he was a member of the San Jose Sharks.
Before tonight, Nabokov’s lone career loss to the Caps came on Oct. 15, 2009 when Ovechkin scored twice in a span of 28 seconds early in the second period to help the Caps to a 4-1 win over the Sharks at Verizon Center. Mike Knuble and Brendan Morrison assisted on both Ovechkin strikes that night.
Until Brouwer’s first goal of the night at 16:31 of the third period in Tuesday’s game, Nabokov had extended his shutout spell over the Caps to 123:51, dating back to a Dec. 30, 2009 game in San Jose.
By The Numbers – Wideman led the Caps with 22:35 in ice time. Ovechkin’s 21:20 led Washington forwards … Chimera led the way with five hits … Washington fired a total of 72 shots (34 on net) to New York’s 46 (24 on net).