There was no third period collapse in this one.
The Washington Capitals systemically controlled the pace of the game and offensive possession of the puck and young netminder Braden Holtby did the rest, registering 28 saves in a 3-0 whitewashing of the Minnesota Wild, who were playing the second of back-to-back games — and looked it.
After a scoreless — and sluggish — first period, the Caps took control of the game in the second, scoring twice and driving play all period. The first goal came as the result of a nifty play by Alexander Semin, toe-dragging on a two-on-one long enough for the defenseman to commit before sliding the puck to a wide open Jason Chimera, who simply had to tap it past Matt Hackett (20 saves).
“My son could have scored that goal,” Chimera said. “[Semin] looked like the Harlem Globetrotters out there at times [tonight]. He was going all over the place. It’s fun to be on his line when he’s creating chances like that.”
But the biggest play in the frame came may have been a sliding break-up of a Minnesota short-handed two-on-one with the Caps clinging to a precarious 1-0 lead — by Alex Ovechkin.
Dennis Wideman fumbled a puck at the offensive blue line at the start of a Caps’ power play and the Wild were off to the races, with Mikko Koivu and Cal Clutterbuck doing the honors. Ovechkin raced back from his opposite point to get between the Wild skaters and perfectly timed his slide to break up the play.
“It was a great slide,” coach Dale Hunter said later. “It was like he was playing ‘D’ all his life.”
Just over a minute later, Matthieu Perreault tapped in a beauty of a pass from Troy Brouwer on the power play to double the score.
Ovechkin later did what he’s more known for — goal scoring — adding an insurance marker in the third period. It was Ovechkin’s seventh goal in the last five games, and tenth in his last 10.
Instead of withdrawing into a shell and allowing Minnesota a chance to get back in this one, the Caps kept the forecheck and cycling going and added to the lead in the third.
Asked if he said or did anything differently before the third period last night as opposed to Friday night’s collapse, Hunter said, “Well, third period we put more pressure on them. We didn’t play in our own end as much, and we actually cycled down there [in the Minnesota end] a lot.”
Chimera spoke about the different result from Friday night. “Collectively we knew we had to be better. I think we were a lot better in the first shift. We got the pucks deep, we took care of the puck, our “D” made some plays which was great. That was a key. We weren’t just throwing pucks away, we made some good plays and Holtby made some big saves. We can’t say enough about him.”
Indeed, Holtby was stellar in his fourth game of this season, earning his third career NHL shutout in 18 total games. “Shutouts are nice for the stats sheet, but they don’t always show exactly what happened. I got lucky on numerous occasions there. You look at Ovi’s play on the two-on-one in the second, and that’s a huge play for a scoring chance.”
“It’s a nice stat for a goalie but it really is a team stat.”
At the end of play Sunday, the Caps had wrestled eighth place in the conference back from Buffalo, if only by force of the tiebreaker. It sets up a rather dramatic game Tuesday night at Verizon Center, with the Sabres coming in to battle for their playoff lives.
With Florida’s shootout loss to the Islanders Sunday, the Caps are three points out of the division lead, though the Panthers have a game in-hand over the Caps. Washington trails Ottawa by just two points for seventh in the conference.
CAPS NOTES: Hunter dressed seven defensemen for the game, with John Carlson rotating partners throughout the evening. The slumping sophomore assisted on Ovechkin’s third period goal.
Dave Nichols is Editor-in-Chief of District Sports Page. He is credentialed to cover the Nats and the Caps, and previously wrote Nats News Network and Caps News Network. Dave’s first sports hero was Bobby Dandridge. Follow Dave’s Capitals coverage on Twitter @CapitalsDSP.