At the end of a four-game road trip, the Washington Capitals had every reason to drop the finale against the New York Rangers this season, playing three games in four nights after a journey from Pennsylvania to Manitoba and finally, Manhattan.
While Washington started out strong with two quick first-period goals, the Caps eventually seemed to show some wear and fatigue from the busy schedule, yielding two goals in a 3:49 span late in the first frame and getting outshot 25-10 over the last 45 minutes.
But the Capitals were able to force overtime and a shootout, and in Washington’s first shootout of the season, the Caps were able to hold off the Rangers and grab an important two points with a 3-2 shootout win. With the victory, Washington is just two points behind New York for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
Washington’s big stars played an integral role in the win, as Alex Ovechkin netted a goal and an assist, and Nicklas Backstrom matched him. In the shootout, Ovechkin and Backstrom proved to be the difference as they both tallied Capitals prevailed in four rounds, with the Swede getting the game-winner.
Coming off two wins in Winnipeg, the Capitals started out of the gate quickly, scoring two goals in just 9:45 to grab the lead.
With Aaron Stralman in the box for holding Joel Ward, the Caps struck quickly, cashing in just 12 seconds into the man advantage, as Backstrom tipped in an Ovechkin shot that was partially deflected and careened off Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist right to Backstrom. Backstrom redirected the puck in midair into the cage, and Washington had a 1-0 lead just 7:54 in.
Just 1:51 later, Alex Ovechkin continued his hot play, tipping in a Stephen Oleksy shot past Lundqvist and leaving the Madison Square Garden crowd booing the blue-clad Rangers.
That disgruntled mood off 32nd Street didn’t last long, though, as the Rangers took advantage of a 2-on-1, as Aaron Asham rifled a shot just inside the corner with 5:48 left in the period to cut the lead in half.
Then, the Capitals got into penalty trouble as Jason Chimera was whistled for interference, followed by Karl Alzner for a slash on a Rick Nash break, for a 5-on-3. Derek Stephan cashed in with a centering feed that deflected off Holtby’s stick into his own cage, and the game was knotted at 2-2 with 1:57 left in the period.
Capitals failed to convert on a 5-on-3 early in the second period, mustering only 1 shot. That shot was Washington’s only one for most of the period, getting outshot 7-1 at one point in the frame, but Braden Holtby was able to keep the score tied despite the Rangers’ pressure.
In the final minute, the Caps had a golden chance to retake the lead, as a Mike Ribeiro shot rang off Lundqvist’s masks, stunning the netminder. Alzner had a chance to put the rebound in with the goaltender down, but his wrist shot went off the post and it remained 2-2 after 40.
New York controlled the third, outshooting the Capitals 11-5, but couldn’t dent Holtby, and also continued the momentum into the extra session. Ovechkin had a prime chance for the Capitals’ only overtime shot, but Lundqvist was able to come up big.
In their first shootout of the year, coach Adam Oates elected to send out Matt Hendricks, Ovechkin and Ribeiro, who scored once on Lundqvist, while Stephan scored for New York to force extras. With the fourth shot, Mike Richards shot wide, while Backstrom netted the winner in the bottom of the fourth to extend Washington’s win streak to three games.
The Capitals return home – briefly – to face the New York Islanders Tuesday at Verizon Center. Washington then head back on the road for stops in Buffalo, Philadelphia and Carolina in what could be a critical juncture for the team.