Wearing Down the Weary – For the first 39 minutes or so of Sunday’s Caps-Hawks morning match, there wasn’t much reason to believe the visitors would be packing two points on the team charter later in the day. But anyone who’s watched the Capitals with regularity this season knows not to count them out. Washington scored three third-period goals in the span of just 2:16 and got an overtime game-winner from Nicklas Backstrom to skate off with a victory over the Blackhawks.
Washington lost captain and superstar left wing Alex Ovechkin to a game misconduct (and boarding major) in the first period with the Blackhawks already holding a 1-0 lead. Chicago tacked on another goal during Ovechkin’s boarding penalty and made it 3-0 when Duncan Keith made a sharp slap pass to John Madden, who deftly tucked it top shelf with a one-touch deflection some seven minutes into the second. Chicago seemed to have the game under control.
Finally, in the final minute of the second period, the Caps started to show some real signs of life. Washington had a few strong scoring chances late in the middle frame, including an Eric Belanger shot that glanced off the post. But more telling, the Caps hammered the weary Hawks – who were fresh from a 3-2 loss to the Flyers the day before – whenever possible in the second. Washington outhit the Hawks 43-32 on the day, but dished out more than half of those body blows in the second when it outhit Chicago by a 23-14 count.
All those hits seemed to take a toll on the Hawks in the third, when Chicago was playing its sixth period of hockey in roughly 24 hours. In the first two periods, the Capitals launched an uncharacteristically low total of 26 shots, 18 of which were on goal. They more than doubled that total in the third and overtime when they teed up 28 shots to Chicago’s 11. The Hawks were credited with one actual shot on goal in the third period, a Kris Versteeg shot from the side of the net with two seconds left.
So while the Hawks too 47 shots to Washington’s 26 in the first two periods, the home team had little left in the tank for the last period. Chicago seemed to be slogging through mud after the second intermission.
“We didn’t think we played that bad in the first and second periods,” says Caps center David Steckel. “It was a miscommunication on the first [Chicago] goal and they [also] had a 5-on-3 goal. I thought we came out really hard and we met their push.
“Going into the third, if we can score one and we get a break on the 5-on-3, we knew if we would score there we’d have the momentum and it turned out we carried it throughout the period.”
Alexander Semin drew a high-sticking double-minor on Hawks defenseman Jordan Hendry early in the third period. Washington’s Brooks Laich finally solved Chicago goaltender Antti Niemi with 22 seconds left in the first half of that man-advantage. Just before Laich scored, Chicago winger Colin Fraser was detected putting a high stick on Semin, and that penalty – coupled with the remaining portion of Hendry’s double-minor – gave the Caps a 5-on-3 power play for a full two minutes.
The Caps generated several strong chances during that span, but Niemi was marvelous and he had the answer to everything the Capitals sent in his direction. But just three seconds after the Hawks had killed the two-man advantage, Backstrom chipped a shot from the slot over Niemi to make it 3-2.
After that goal, Steckel outraced the Chicago defense to a loose puck behind the Hawks’ net to avert an icing call. But the Washington center went one better. He corralled the puck and threaded a perfect centering feed to Eric Fehr in front. Fehr buried it for his 18th goal of the season, and the game was even at 3-3. Chicago was crushed. The Hawks had allowed three goals in 2:16.
Fehr’s goal came just 13 seconds after Backstrom had pulled the Caps to within one.
“It was vital,” says Steckel of the Fehr goal. “You talk about teams coming out after they score a goal, it’s probably one of the most underrated, important shifts in the game. We take pride in that. We just wanted to get the puck deep. John [Carlson] made a great play, he read the [defense], and I was just able to get there before them.”
“I think we woke up in the third period,” says Backstrom, whose exemplary play in Ovechkin’s absence – and in front of a national television audience – was inspiring. We had some power play chances there and we got the job done. I think that’s what we needed; the first goal. And then we kept going. We had some good shifts there. We created some good chances.”
Backstrom’s game-winner was a one-man show. He turned the puck over in his own end, recovered it, and headed back up ice on a 3-on-2.
“I thought it was going to be a turnover first, and then I got the puck back again,” assesses Backstrom. “I was kind of tired there when I skated over the blueline. I couldn’t find a pass, so I was trying to challenge the defensemen. I got lucky there; it worked out this time.”
For the third time this season, Washington had come from three goals down to win a game. The Capitals are now 16-7-4 when the opposition scores first, and they’re a league-best 7-9-3 when trailing after two. They’re also 3-0 in games in which their best player has been ejected this season.
“We know Ovi is the key to our team,” says Backstrom. “He scores a lot of goals and creates a lot of chances. But we have shown before that other players can play, too. That’s something good for the playoffs.”
“He means the world to us,” says Caps coach Bruce Boudreau of Ovechkin. “But at the same time, when something like that happens, the guys rally around him. I wouldn’t like to do it on a regular basis, but every now and again you can use the emotion to your advantage.”
Excessive? – Most observers felt that Ovechkin’s first-period shove of Hawks defenseman Brian Campbell deserved a boarding minor (or possibly a double-minor) at most. But the officials opted to oust Ovechkin from the game, giving him a boarding major and a game misconduct.
“The referee makes the call,” says Ovechkin. “There is nothing to do right now. He just fell like that and it happens.”
“I thought it was a push from the side,” says Boudreau. “You could see his numbers. But it wasn’t a dead-on [hit] to the boards. Campbell was turning, I thought. Alex didn’t extend his arms; he pushed him. I don’t even think he was off balance, but sometimes you don’t realize how strong Alex is. And he went into the boards. I hope he’s okay. I didn’t think it was a bad check. I didn’t think it was worth five [minutes for boarding] and a game [misconduct]. But I don’t make the calls.”
Campbell fell awkwardly into the boards and was injured. He did not return to the game.
“I thought it was going to be two minutes,” says Ovechkin of the penalty. “But they talked to the linesmen and the two refs talked. They made the call and the linesmen came to me and said, ‘Game over.’
“I don’t think it was a pretty good check. It was contact. It was not a hard hit. It’s kind of a dangerous moment for everybody, but I don’t think it’s five minutes and a game misconduct.”
The Caps’ captain was heartened to see his teammates come back from a big hole against a tough team.
“It’s nice to see when the team comes back especially when it is 3-0 in this kind of building,” says Ovechkin. “I know the guys are very happy and the coaches are happy. It’s always nice when you come back in overtime and win this kind of game. Mentally, it’s very important for us.”
Nineteens – Just over three and a half years ago in Vancouver, the Blackhawks chose center Jonathan Toews with the third overall pick in the 2006 NHL Entry Draft. Now in his third NHL season, Toews is the youngest current captain in the league. He has recorded 80 goals and 100 assists for 180 points in 208 career games in the NHL.
With the very next choice in that same NHL Entry Draft, Washington selected Backstrom. He has now totaled 64 goals and 176 assists for 240 points in 233 career contests in the league.
Backstrom’s Sunday assist was his 55th of the season. He joins Wayne Gretzky and Peter Stastny as just the third player in NHL history to record 55 or more assists in each of his first three seasons in the league.
Backstrom now has 83 points (28 goals, 55 assists) on the season, ensuring him of a second straight campaign with an average of better than a point per game.
Along with Ovechkin and Mike Green, Backstrom gives the Caps three players with 50 or more assists for just the second time in franchise history and the first time since 1992-93. Back then, Washington got 50 or more helpers from Dale Hunter (59), Mike Ridley (56) and Michal Pivonka (53).
52 for 52 – With a pair of assists on Sunday, Caps defenseman Mike Green now has 52 helpers on the season. He is nine assists shy of matching Scott Stevens’ single-season franchise record for most assists by a defenseman. Stevens had 61 assists in 1988-89.
Green is the fourth Capitals blueliner ever to amass 50 or more assists in a season and his total of 52 in 2009-10 is the fifth best single-season total ever for a Washington rearguard.
Green has had at least a point in 13 of his last 14 games with five goals and 19 points during that span.
Senses Working Overtime – Today’s game marked the third time in the last four games that Washington needed to play beyond 60 minutes to determine the outcome of a game.
Double Sawbuck – Washington’s Sunday win in Chicago was its 20th road triumph of the season (20-10-5). The Caps have won 20 or more road games for the third straight season and are two road victories shy of matching the single-season franchise record.
West Beaters – The Caps are now 9-4-3 against Western Conference foes this season. They have a home date remaining against Calgary and a road game against Columbus. Among all Eastern Conference teams, only the Buffalo Sabres (10-5-3) have more wins than Washington against Western opponents. Buffalo is finished with the west for the season.
No Mas – The Caps jetted out of the Windy City on Sunday afternoon after their win over Chicago, flying back to the Eastern Time Zone for a Tuesday tilt with the Florida Panthers. The Capitals have 13 games remaining in the 2009-10 regular season, and all of them will be played in the Eastern Time Zone.
Happy Birthday – To short-time Cap and Ranger-killer Joe Motzko, born on this day in 1980. And slightly early happy birthday wishes to Sunday’s hard-hat Capital David Steckel, born on March 15, 1982.
By The Numbers – Green had three hits in the first period and Steckel had three blocked shots in the initial frame … Keith played 11:39 in the first, including 5:03 of Chicago’s total of 6:24 in first-period power play time … Fraser administered five hits in just three shifts covering 1:55 in the first period … The Caps were just 5-for-19 (26%) in the face-off circle in the first 20 minutes … Shaone Morrisonn threw four hits and blocked three shots in the second period … Matt Bradley had four second-period hits … Washington outhit Chicago 23-14 in the middle stanza … Brent Sopel accounted for six of Chicago’s 12 blocked shots on the day, recording five of the six after the start of the third period … Steckel finished the game with seven hits, tops among all players on both sides … Green skated 30:23 on the night, including 11:59 of the game’s final 23:10 … Keith logged 32:40 for the day, including 12:26 of the game’s final 23:10.
1 - 0 CHI
2 - 0 CHI
3 - 0 CHI
3 - 1 CHI
3 - 2 CHI
3 - 3 Tie
4 - 3 WSH
Interference - Goalkeeper
Hi stick - double minor