As much as it is a cliche, it’s also the honest truth to say that the Washington Capitals snatched victory from the jaws of defeat Tuesday night, rallying from a two-goal deficit against the New York Islanders with a pair of Troy Brouwer goals in the final four minutes of regulation to send the game to overtime, where Alexander Ovechkin scored to give the home team a crucial 3-2 win.
Late success glossed over a frustrating game for Washington, in which the home team outshot and outscored the Islanders but were largely unable to pierce goaltender Evgeni Nabokov, who stopped 31 shots.
Brouwer disagreed with any negative assessments after the game, saying that even when the Caps were down 2-0, “the way we were playing, we were happy with it.” He also admitted to engaging in scoreboard-watching, saying he and his teammates were well aware they needed two points to keep pace with the Southeast Division-leading Florida Panthers, who were simultaneously en route to an easy 5-3 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Through Brouwer scored both regulation goals to send the game to overtime, he and head coach Dale Hunter credited several of his teammates for generating each scoring chance.
Washington’s first goal was set up by Jason Chimera, who utilized his blazing speed to negate a potential icing and trap the puck in the left corner, where Mathieu Perreault picked it up and fired it toward the blue paint in front of Nabokov. The puck went tape-to-tape from Perreault to Brouwer positioned on the far post, and the rugged winger only had to stand still and let the disc bounce off his stick into the net.
“It took three good plays” to get the first goal, said Hunter, identifying Chimera’s hustle, Perreault’s centering feed, and Brouwer’s positioning as the keys to the play: ”[The Islanders] weren’t going to give us an odd-man rush goal, it had to be a dump and then hard work to get it and going to the net hard” to generate a goal.
Nabokov “was having one of those games where you could see it was going to take a special play to get a goal on him,” added Hunter.
Newly energized, the Capitals pushed forward on offense and Brouwer sent the game to overtime when he deflected Brooks Laich’s shot from the right half-boards with 25.5 seconds left past Nabokov’s glove. Hunter credited Jeff Halpern, who won the crucial face-off, for the play: “He’s one of the best in the league…it gave us a chance to get a shot to the net with great traffic and that was the difference.”
Halpern is third best in the NHL at the faceoff dot, winning 58.8% of his draws.
With Washington’s recovery late in the third period, Ovechkin’s unassisted game-winner was almost a foregone conclusion. The winger picked up an Islanders turnover and raced down the left wing, ripping a shot that beat Nabokov 105 seconds into the extra period. It was the first shot the Capitals took in overtime, and the only one they needed.
The Capitals only needed the impressive comeback because two defensive breakdowns allowed the moribund Islanders to stake out an quick 1-0 lead and then double it early in the third period. Little blame for either goal rests on Washington goalie Michal Neuvirth, who made 22 saves to earn his third straight win.
Despite generating a paucity of shots earlyin the game New York pierced Neuvirth minutes into the game, though much of the blame for Josh Bailey’s goal rests at the feet of the skaters in red.
Bailey singlehandledly knifed through the Washington defense from the blue line in, freed up space in the slot for a backhand try by dropping Jeff Schultz to his knees with a slap-fake, and then batted in his own rebound off the post over Neuvirth’s left leg just 4:14 into the game.
At the end of the first Washington held a 13-3 margin over the Islanders in shots, and similarly dominated in scoring chances. The fact that the Isles nonetheless held the 1-0 lead after 20 minutes appeared to demoralize the Caps, who were largely dormant in the second frame and most of the third. Jason Chimera had perhaps best scoring chance in the first 40 minutes, missing wide with a deflection on a 2-on-1 fast break midway through the second period, and Alexander Semin and Perreault both had strong chances from the slot in quick succession that were foiled each time by Nabokov.
Washington failed to come out strong for the final period of regulation, and Matt Moulson, the Isles’ leading goal-scorer, extended his team’s lead to two goals when he deflected a simple wrist shot from defenseman Steve Staios past Neuvirth’s glove. ”I saw the puck the whole time, it was going right to my glove and it hit something,” said Neuvirth. “I missed it.”
Even though only Brouwer and Ovechkin found the back of the net, Washington’s best threat on offense all night long was fourth-liner Jay Beagle, who led the team with five shots despite earning the second-fewest minutes of ice time. Hunter had high praise for Beagle, saying the young forward can deliver on the offensive and defensive ends of the ice and that “he’s annoying to play against because he works too hard out there.”
The importance of Tuesday’s win for Washington’s playoff hopes can’t be understated. With the Panthers earning two points, the Capitals desperately needed to keep pace with the Cats and the top spot in the Southeast Division. By taking home the win, Washington jumped the dormant Winnipeg Jets in the standings and now sit in 8th place with 69 points, just three points behind Florida (although the Panthers have a game in hand on Washington).
Furthermore, the Islanders game was the first of a five-game home stand for Washington, its longest of the season, and the Caps needed to establish energy and pick up as many points as possible before ending the regular season with nine of its last fifteen games on the road. Next up is a Friday night date with the New Jersey Devils, who currently sit one spot and five points above Washington in the Eastern Conference playoff race.