Eight Straight –Mike Knuble netted the game-winner in overtime on Sunday afternoon at Verizon Center to send the Capitals to the win column for the eighth consecutive game. This one was a 4-3 triumph over the defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks.
The afternoon didn’t start well for Washington; the Blackhawks had the game’s first five shots, the first goal and the first two power plays. When Caps center Marcus Johansson was sent off for hooking at 5:53 of the first, the Hawks had a chance to push their lead to two goals.
Instead, the Caps made the first tide-turning plays that each had significant impacts on this game. Washington’s Boyd Gordon scored a shorthanded goal just 18 seconds after Johansson was seated in the penalty box to even the game and throw momentum back in the Capitals’ favor.
“It bites pretty hard when you get scored on shorthanded,” says Chicago captain Jonathan Toews.
Late in the first period, the Caps went up 2-1 on Jason Arnott’s power play strike.
Chicago continued the seesaw pattern on Tomas Kopecky’s deep angle strike early in the second, and the game remained deadlocked at 2-2 for the next 23 minutes.
In the final minute of the second period, caps winger Jason Chimera authored the second of those tide-turning plays when he barreled down the right side and cut toward the net. The speedy Caps winger tried to chip a shot over crouching hawks goalie Corey Crawford, but missed. Chimera then breezed through the crease, brushing the goaltender as he passed.
Crawford went down as if he’d been shot, and Chicago defenseman Brent Seabrook reacted swiftly, challenging Chimera to a fight. Already down a defenseman because of an injury to blueliner Brian Campbell, Seabrook’s fighting major – his first of the season and first since April of last year – put the Hawks two defensemen down going into the third frame and left them without two of their top three rearguards in terms of ice time.
“It’s not a play where you go to hit the goalie,” says Chimera. “I almost scored a goal, I think it hit the crossbar. I was going to score a goal, not hit the goalie. I jumped out of the way of him; I may have brushed him but I don’t think I hit him. It looked like he embellished it pretty good.
“Anytime you can take someone off like that – Seabrook is a big part of their defense – if it helped, maybe he would have been out there at that point, it may have helped but it’s just nice to get a big win.
“It was a huge game out there. It felt like a playoff atmosphere. It was one of the best games I’ve been a part of. It was a great game to watch, I’m sure the fans had a great time watching it. It was a fun game to be a part of.”
“Chimmer, I thought he was a factor,” says Laich. “He didn’t get a star or anything, but I thought he was a real big factor in the game tonight. You just get the puck to him and he turns the old road-runner wheels on. He can skate the puck the length of the ice. He’s a physical guy, he’s the one that sort of instigated that rhubarb there and he does a good job and takes one of their top defenders off. I think he had a good night.”
Matt Hendricks filled Chimera’s spot on the left side of a line with Brooks Laich and Eric Fehr while Chimera served his major. Just before Seabrook’s return from the box, Hendricks started the play that put the Caps ahead.
Laich was lurking in the high slot when Fehr threaded a perfect pass to him, and the Caps’ center netted it for his 15th goal of the season.
“You hope that if you keep doing things right you’re going to get rewarded,” prefaces Laich. “Hendy makes a good play in the neutral zone to force a turnover and then we just get it in deep. Eric wins a battle against a smaller defenseman in [Chicago’s Duncan] Keith, and gets the puck out front and we get a goal.”
The Hawks rallied to force the game into overtime after Johansson went off for another hooking call in the final two minutes of regulation. Toews was parked at the left post and he pounded home a rebound of a Keith shot that caromed off the backboards.
Chicago got the game’s first five shots, and the Caps fired the last six. Knuble found the back of the net on the sixth one, with help from Johansson.
“Real heads up play by Marcus,” says Knuble. “It would have been very easy for him to bury his head there and try to jam it through, but I kind of laid my stick to the side and he put it on the tape. It was a very smart play by him.”
“I still really haven’t seen the goal; everybody was standing up [on the bench],” says Caps coach Bruce Boudreau. “I’m sure Marcus wanted to work doubly hard on that shift because he felt responsible for them getting the tying goal even though I thought it was a pretty chintzy call.”
Afternoon Delight – With today’s win over the Blackhawks, the Capitals are now 9-1 in afternoon games this season.
Hot Stuff – Today’s game featured two of the league’s hottest teams. The Hawks opened their current road trip by winning their eighth consecutive game, and they came into today’s contest with an 8-1-1 record in their last 10 games.
Washington came into Sunday’s game with a 9-1 mark in previous 10 tilts and the Caps ran their winning streak to eight with today’s triumph over the Hawks.
Short Stuff – Gordon’s shorthanded strike was the seventh by the Capitals this season and the team’s first since Marcus Johansson netted one in a Sunday matinee game against Pittsburgh on Feb. 6.
“That was a huge goal,” says Caps goalie Braden Holtby of Gordon’s tally. “We know they’re a team that comes out hard in the first. They have the most first-period goals in the league. Getting a power play right off the start probably didn’t help. We just tried to weather the storm there for a bit, but coming back when Boyd scored that goal you could just feel that the momentum had swung in our favor.”
The shorthanded goal was the fifth of Gordon’s NHL career. Each of his previous two shorthanded goals were empty-netters in the final minute of play. The last time Gordon scored a shorthanded goal with a netminder between the pipes was when he beat the Kings’ Mathieu Garon on Feb. 8, 2007.
Homeboy Holtby – Although he allowed more than one goal in a game for the first time in his last seven appearances, Holtby earned his eighth win of the season and is now 8-2-2 with a 1.95 GAA and a 1.95 save pct.
Even more impressive are Holtby’s numbers at home. In six Verizon Center appearances (five starts), he is now 5-0-1 with a 1.31 GAA and a .954 save pct.
Polar Opposites – Coming into Sunday’s game at Verizon Center, the Blackhawks led the NHL with 74 first-period goals this season, seven more than any other team in the league.
Coming into Sunday’s game at Verizon Center, the Capitals trailed the NHL with 39 first-period goals this season, seven fewer than any other team in the league.
So naturally, the Caps outscored the Hawks 2-1 in the first period of this afternoon’s game. It marked the first time in 14 games that Washington had held a lead after the game’s first 20 minutes, dating back to a 4-1 loss to Los Angeles on Feb. 8 at Verizon Center.
Washington is now 15-1-5 in games in which it has led after one period of play.
Numerology – Chicago’s Toews scored his 29th goal of the season to tie the game late in the third. Patrick Sharp notched his 30th assist of the season on the tally and Duncan Keith his 31st.
By The Numbers – Today’s win runs Washington’s record vs. Western Conference foes to 7-8-1 on the season … The Capitals outhit the Blackhawks 31-23 on the afternoon. Seabrook and Hendricks led their respective teams in that category … Washington blocked 20-plus shots for the second straight game, with Jeff Schultz leading the way with five … Laich was the game’s best face-off man with 7-of-8 (88%) on the day … Johansson led the Caps with seven shots on goal … Keith led all skaters on both sides with 30:42 in ice time. He logged a whopping 25:18 of even strength ice time, nearly half of the total of 53:55 in even-strength time that was played in Sunday’s game … Dennis Wideman led the Caps with 27:27 in ice time. He has led the caps in ice time four times in the seven games he has played since joining the team. Wideman has four assists and is plus-7 in seven games with Washington.