The Anaheim Ducks, in the midst of a grueling seven-game road trip, looked like the homestanding team at Verizon Center early last night, jumping out to a 3-0 lead mid-way though the second period. But the resilient Washington Capitals, who looked tired and uninterested through 30 minutes of play, stormed back, fairly dominating play the rest of the way until Nicklas Backstrom tied the game with 42 seconds remaining in regulation, then hit for the game-winner 2:18 into overtime to remain undefeated in the United States this season
The Caps run their season record to 8-2-0 with the 5-4 win and stole two points from their Western Conference opponent, when defeat seemed all but certain early.
Joel Ward, Dennis Wideman and Troy Brouwer all had goals for the Caps, and Brooks Laich registered three assists. Tomas Vokoun did not have a particularly stellar night in goal — allowing four goals on 15 shots –and also took a tripping penalty that led to led to Anaheim’s fourth goal.
But in the end, Backstrom was the difference-maker, knotting the game skating 6-on-4 inside the last minute, burying a long rebound of a Joel Ward shot. Then at 4-on-4 in overtime, Backstrom slyly nodded his long-time linemate Alex Ovechkin into position on a rush. After a failed Ovechkin blast, the puck caromed around the boards and defenseman Jeff Schultz made an uncharacteristically heady offensive play, keeping the zone and centering to Ovechkin, who deftly tipped the puck through the crease to the wide open Backstrom, who made no doubt about it, capping the comeback.
This game had a little bit of everything in it, with Anaheim’s geezer line of Teemu Selanne and Saku Koivu (with Cam Fowler) responsible for the Ducks early lead, scoring all three early Anaheim goals at even strength. With each early goal, the Caps looked less and less invested in the game.
Then, in the middle of the second period, something triggered the Caps into gear. Ward started the scoring with a short angle shot that snuck through Ducks goalie Jonas Hiller (35 saves on 40 shots). Dennis Wideman followed just three minutes later with a bomb from the high slot after Vokoun caught the Ducks on a line change and sent Ward and Laich in alone on Hiller. The besieged goalie made the first scrambling save, but could not re-group to get in front of Wideman’s slapper.
Cory Perry registered a power play goal to re-up Anaheim’s lead to two goals just about mid-way through the third, but Troy Brouwer countered with a blast that came out of Hiller’s catching glove and tumbled over his shoulder and into the net to draw the Caps back within one. All that was left was Backstrom’s magic.
On the game-tying goal though, Backstrom did not have his usual running mate. Ovechkin was glued to the bench while Backstrom was the extra skater with the Chimera-Laich-Ward line (who combined for eight points on the night) and blue liners Wideman and John Carlson. Asked afterward why he left the Great 8 on the bench on such a crucial play, coach Bruce Boudreau responded, “I thought other guys were better than him and I thought there was just a chance that other guys might score the goal.”
“I’ve got to put out the guys that I think are going to score the goal and 99 percent of the time Alex is the guy I think is going to score the goal. I just didn’t think Alex was going to score the goal at that time tonight. You go with your gut feeling, thinking that [Laich’s line] is going pretty good and I got lucky.”
Lucky or not, Ovechkin was back out with Backstrom for the overtime winner.
Good teams find a way to win when they don’t play their best. Real good teams do it on a consistent basis. This Caps team has had glimpses so far of just how good they can be. They’ve also had periods of play, like the first 30 minutes tonight, where they can look uninterested and downright sloppy.
This comeback might cloud some of the poor play early, but make no mistake: they desperately miss Mike Green. When he’s out, every other defenseman gets moved up a slot and the weaknesses of the individuals become a little more obvious. Wideman was victimized for the first two goals, first trying to do too much, then missing an assignment. Roman Hamrlik looked slow all night, as his minus-3 rating will attest to. Watching the pair of Karl Alzner and Jeff Schultz trying to clear their zone at times was downright cover-your-eyes painful. And so on.
But the bottom line is the Caps came out on top. Two points on Nov. 1 is as important as two points in March or April. The Caps dug deep and defended their barn after losing two not-particularly well-played games on the road trip. It was an important bounce-back win. It’s funny, though, how we keep finding problems with this 8-2-0 team, but they keep winning.
CAPS NOTES: Cody Eakin made his NHL debut last night, registering three shots on goal and acquitting himself well. “I though I played pretty well. I tried to keep it simple. There were a few turnovers but I tried to limit them and just keep a steady work ethic the rest of the night.” Was it everything he ever dreamed of? “Yeah, it was pretty special. A lot of the time you’re thinking about the game out there and not so much about the excitement for yourself, but as the game wore on I got a little more comfortable and enjoyed it.”
Troy Brouwer was hit from behind into the boards by Anaheim defenseman Toni Lydman with about three minutes to go in the game and did not return. He appeared to be favoring his surgically repaired right shoulder as he left the ice. Boudreau said after the game he had not looked at it and wouldn’t know Brouwer’s status until Wednesday morning after trainers evaluated him.
The Caps outshot the Ducks 40-15, including 12-5 in the second period and 18-4 in the third. The Caps had the lone shot on goal in overtime.
As a team, the Caps won just 46 percent of their face-offs, but Marcus Johansson won 10-of-17 (59%). Backstrom won just 6-of-18 on the night.