In an important game in the playoff hunt, the Washington Capitals fell behind early to the New York Islanders and twice faced three-goal deficits in the second period. Facing long odds, the Caps fought back to tie the game midway through the third frame and won the game in a shootout 5-4 on the strength of a Matt Hendricks deke and poised play by Michal Neuvirth.
Alexander Ovechkin scored twice and Mike Knuble and Dmitry Orlov each scored once for Washington. Michal Neuvirth made 26 saves to earn his 11th win of the season.
After overtime failed to settle the matter, Caps head coach Dale Hunter turned to Alexander Semin, Ovechkin, and Orlov in the shootout. Semin was poke-checked by Isles goalie Evgeni Nabokov, Ovechkin scored on the backhand, and Orlov blew his chance to win the game when he meekly lost the puck while stickhandling and failed to record a shot. Neuvirth stopped two of New York’s chances, allowing only Isles star John Tavares to beat him, and stymied defenseman Mark Streit’s attempt in the 4th round.
Enter Matt Hendricks. Even though the fourth-line winger was last on Washington in terms of ice time, the Minnesota native’s slick hands and quiet confidence let him excel in a second role as a shootout specialist.
With the chance to win, Hendricks used his patented stutter-step backhand fake to draw Nabokov out of the net and smoothly flipped the backhand into the vacated net to secure the 5-4 win.
His team’s shootout triumph was made possible in part by the dogged determination of Washington captain Alexander Ovechkin, who twice pounced on rebounds to net his 28th and 29th goals of the season.
On his second goal the third time was the charm for Ovechkin, who was stopped by Nabokov on his initial wrist shot and then his first attempt at the rebound but proceeded to poke the loose puck past the goalie to knot the game at four with 9:45 remaining in regulation.
Earlier in the game, Ovechkin tipped in the rebound from a Brooks Laich wrister with 53 seconds remaining in the second period to cut the Caps’ deficit to 4-2.
Between the two Ovechkin markers, Orlov made things interesting with his third goal of the season early in the third period. The rookie defenseman snuck into the high slot while teammate Keith Aucoin was digging the puck out of the corner, and Aucoin hit Orlov with a beautiful pass that the d-man snapped over Nabokov’s right shoulder after a little deke in front.
Aucoin was masterful in the game, centering the top line between Ovechkin and Marcus Johansson. The diminutive center, who spent most of the season with the Hershey Bears of the AHL, recorded his first career 3-point game with a trio of assists.
Coming just 1:51 into the third period, Orlov’s marker gave a burst of hope to the worried Caps, who twice faced three-goal deficits in the first 32 minutes of the game.
When New York took a 3-0 lead midway through the second period, things were looking extremely bleak for Washington. Tavares staked the Isles out to that lead when he camped out in front of Neuvirth’s net on the power play and deposited the rebound on a Mark Streit shot from the point past the goalie’s right leg at 9:05 of the middle stanza.
Washington would strike back quickly, though. New York’s in-house announcer hadn’t even finished describing Tavares’s goal when Dennis Wideman took a pass from Aucoin at the right point and blasted a slapshot that deflected off Knuble in front of the net and past Nabokov. Only 28 seconds elapsed between the two goals.
Tavares put the Isles back up by a three-goal margin, two minutes after Washington’s first goal, when he finished a New York fast break with a gorgeous wrist shot that clanged off the inside crossbar and rocketed out of the net just as quickly as it entered.
The Capitals found themselves on the wrong end of two unusual plays in the first 20 minutes, both of which resulted in the puck crossing Neuvirth’s goal line.
Matt Moulson opened the scoring for New York with one of the flukiest goals of the season; at the very least, the Islanders winger knows better than to claim any agency for the puck finding the back of the net. His slapshot unleashed from the left point was shouldered wide of the goal frame by Neuvirth, but the puck took an unexpected arcing bounce off the end boards and hit off the bewildered goalie’s chest into the net as Neuvirth turned around to track its location.
Rugged defenseman Travis Hamonic got a lucky bounce in the dying seconds of the first period when his attempted centering pass hit off John Carlson’s leg and into the open net on a late power play.
Special teams were a subplot the entire evening. New York went 2-of-5 with the man advantage, while Washington didn’t earn a single power play. It was the second time in two weeks that the Caps were without a power play in a game: on March 4 against Philadelphia each team had a fighting major and the Capitals were also given one minor penalty.
For a few moments Washington’s win vaulted the team into the top spot in the Southeast Division, until Florida’s 5-2 victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs went final a half-hour later. Even still, the Caps now sit in eighth place in the Eastern Conference and just one point behind the Panthers for the Southeast lead and three points behind the Ottawa Senators for seventh place in the conference standings.
Abram Fox is the Washington Capitals Page Editor for District Sports Page. He has been covering the Capitals from the press box since the 2007-08 season.