Trailing Philadelphia 1-0 and getting beaten to most loose pucks, the Washington Capitals fought to kill a two-man disadvantage which threatened to break the game open.
When Braden Holtby robbed Mark Streit for perhaps the game’s most critical save, and Washington killed both penalties, the momentum shifted. From there, the Capitals scored three of the game’s next four goals and beat the Flyers 3-2 at Verizon Center on Sunday.
Outplayed for much of the game, it wasn’t until around the midway point of the second – specifically, Holtby’s robbery of Streit at the 12:31 mark – that the Capitals began to commandeer the pace of the game.
“To me, that changed the whole, they could have been [up] 2 or 3-0, and I don’t think we would have came back from that deficit. Those are important moments for us,” Capitals Coach Barry Trotz said.
With 4:04 left until the second intermission, Alex Ovechkin deflected Karl Alzner’s attempt past Flyer goalie Steve Mason to tie it. In the process, Ovechkin moved into third place in terms of NHL players who started their career with consecutive 30-goal seasons at 11, behind Wayne Gretzky (13) and former Capital Mike Gartner (15).
“He’s probably the best goal scorer of this generation of players,” Trotz said when asked about Ovechkin’s accomplishment. “It’s not surprising; he’s probably going to do it another time or two before he’s done. It’s fantastic. Consistency, that’s a part of greatness.”
“You just have to do what you have to do,” Ovechkin said of his tally. “It was a dirty goal, but it was a very important goal for us.”
1:09 later, Dmitry Orlov took a feed from Andre Burakovsky in front of the blue line, skated through two Flyers, and rifled the puck past Mason, his fifth goal of the year giving Washington their first lead.
51 seconds into the third, Nick Schultz tied the game with his first NHL goal. Just over five minutes into the frame, Matt Niskanen gained control the puck in the Capitals’ zone on the goal-line extended. Gliding through the neutral zone, Niskanen deked through a few Philadelphia defenders before delivering a snap shot past Mason, eliciting “ooh”s and “ahh”s from the crowd. Trotz, when asked what the bench reaction to the spectacular goal was, described the general response as “Holy … it’s a Sunday, I can’t say it. That’s really what I’m thinking, that’s pretty well what a lot of guys on the bench were thing.
“Nisky doesn’t say a whole lot. He’s one of those rare teammates where everyone seems to like, he’s very likable … he competes, he plays so well and so consistent on a regular basis. He’s everybody’s guy that you cheer for … when he does something like that, the guys are excited.”
“It was like back to 70s,” Ovechkin said. “Bobby Orr, all those guys. I think whole building was surprised, it’s a highlight 100 percent.”
“I really wanted to pass that puck to someone but either my vision’s getting worse or I couldn’t see anybody open. There was open ice to skate in the middle, I was kind of able to pick my way through there. Lucky shot, I guess,” Niskanen said. “I wanted somebody to come force me to get rid of it … I haven’t scored a goal like that in probably 12 years.”
Through the comeback and all, Trotz acknowledged that the team is beginning to get back into its groove after two long lulls which bookended the All-Star break. That said, he knows that it’s time for his group to step up.
“One of the things that I think that we have to recognize is that everybody’s kicked their game to playoff mode. The Islanders, the Flyers … we’re going to Nashville, they’re gonna be in playoff mode. Fortunately, with our record, we have some separation,” he said. “At the same time, we can’t take that for granted. That’s when we don’t play well, that’s when you get hurt, that’s when you get frustrated. What we try to talk to the group about is, ‘Let’s use everybody’s level of play and let them help us raise our play.’ Because we need to be in playoff mode.
“I think our sense is coming back, our conditioning is starting to come back, our execution is starting to come back, and if we have the good mindset that every time we step on the ice, there’s two points to be had, and if teams are in playoff mode and we’re not, we’re gonna get it handed to us. But if we have the mindset that we’re in playoff mode, it’ll be a good contest.”