The Washington Capitals snatched victory from the jaws of defeat, not to mention embarrassment, when they took away two points in a 6-5 overtime win over the Detroit Red Wings in the back half of their home-and-home weekend series.
The Caps avoided the sweep at the hands of the Red Wings when Alex Ovechkin pounded a one-timer past Jimmy Howard 2:37 into the extra session, the Caps’ third power play goal of the game. The game-winner spared the embarrassment that might have been felt by a team that had three two-goal leads in the game.
The Caps established their first two goal lead in the first period with Jason Chimera and Joel Ward scoring just 2:37 apart. For Chimera it was a case of finishing off some fine forward pressure deep in the Red Wing zone, pinning the Red Wings behind their own goal line before the puck squirted out to Chimera all alone on the dot in the right wing faceoff circle. With goalie Jimmy Howard’s head on a swivel, he could not find the puck, and Chimera had an open net to shoot at before Howard could realize where the puck had gone.
Ward finished the first Caps power play of the game when, while occupying the right wing half wall spot normally manned by Nicklas Backstrom, Marcus Johansson found Ward in the slot with shooting room. Ward settled the puck and wristed it past Howard before the Red Wing defense could converge, and the Caps had their first two-goal lead.
After Gustav Nyquist halved the lead on a power play goal at the 11:20 mark, John Carlson restored the two-goal advantage when he took a pass from Nicklas Backstrom in the high slot and pounded a slap shot past Howard’s blocker to make it 3-1.
Detroit got back within a goal at 13:30 of the second period on a Tomas Tatar goal that seemed to fool goalie Michal Neuvirth from the left wing circle. However, Joel Ward put the Caps up by two goals for a third time just 19 seconds later. Ward started it, and he finished it. From the left wing wall Ward dumped the puck into the far corner where defenseman Connor Carrick was headed. Carrick threw the puck at the crease, but defenseman Jakub Kindl had Jason Chimera tied up. No one bothered to track Ward coming from the far side, however, and he jumped into the slot and stuffed the puck past Howard for his second goal of the game.
Nyquist got the Red Wings within a goal for a third time with a power play goal – his second goal of the game – with just 1:11 left in the second period, something of a momentum changer as it turned out. The Red Wings capitalized on the momentum change just 42 seconds into the third period when Nyquist completed the hat trick. The Caps took it back, though, less than four minutes later.
Although he would not get the goal, nor even an assist on the play, the tie-breaker was largely the product of hard work by Martin Erat. Firt, Erat chased down Justin Abdelkader, who was himself in flight into the Detroit zone to try to gain control of a loose puck. All Abdelkader was able to do as a result was poke the puck across to Jonathan Ericsson. When the puck slid past Ericsson, it was Erat pouncing in the opposite corner to pressure the defenseman into a turnover. The puck slid out to the left wing circle and past Nicklas Backstrom and Henrik Zetterberg, finding its way onto the stick of Troy Brouwer in all alone on Howard. Brouwer made good on the chance, snapping the puck to the long side and inside the post to give the Caps a 5-4 lead.
That lead did not hold up, either. Abdelkader got it back just 1:57 later – yet another goal allowed less than two minutes after scoring one – and the game was tied for the last time. The Red Wings sealed their fate when Brendan Smith was sent off 1:26 into the extra session to give the Caps the advantage of numbers and open ice. When John Carlson fed Alex Ovechkin barely a minute later, the Caps took one more, one last, one final lead, and sent fans home to their Super Bowl parties happy.
-- Ovechkin had the game-winning goal, 11 shot attempts, two hits, and a takeaway in 24 minutes of ice time. He was also a minus-1. Wonder what will get the attention on Monday morning.
-- Speaking of Ovechkin, one wonders if he ever had as open a net as the one in front of him with two seconds left in the first period. If the Caps make it 4-1 there, does Howard return for the second period? Do the Red Wings come back? Would Lassie get the sheriff to the well to save Timmy in time to watch the Super Bowl?
-- In the two-minute goal sweepstakes, the Joel Ward goal 19 seconds after Tomas Tatar scored in the second period was the ninth time this season that the Caps scored a goal less than two minutes after giving one up. When Gustav Nyquist returned the favor 1:17 after Troy Brouwer scored in the third period, it was the 24th time it happened to the Caps.
-- The three power plays on six chances made it 6-for-18 in the Caps’ last four games (33.3 percent). It was the first time the Caps had three power play goals in a game since December 20th in a 4-2 win over Carolina.
-- The Caps have not lacked for offense against Detroit recently. Six goals made it 24 in their last five games against the Red Wings. It was the most goals the Caps scored at home since beating the New York Islanders, 6-2, back on November 5th.
-- For Nicklas Backstrom, his two assist day made it his first multi-point day since he was he had a goal and an assist in a 3-2 win over the New York Rangers on December 27th.
-- The Caps abused the Red Wings in the circle. They were 13-for-21 on faceoffs in the offensive end, 15-for-26 in the defensive end, and 18-for-29 in the neutral zone. Eric Fehr (10-for-12), Nicklas Backstrom (12-for-21), and Jay Beagle (14-for-19) were beastly.
-- Speaking of Fehr, Backstrom, and Beagle, those three tied for the team lead in hits with five apiece.
-- For Joel Ward it was his second three-point game of the season, his other one coming when he recorded a hat trick against Philadelphia in a 7-0 win on November 1st.
-- Connor Carrick had his first multi-point game in the NHL with a pair of assists.
-- Marcus Johansson had a shot on goal and a missed shot. It broke a string of four games in which he did not have so much as a shot attempt. He had an assist for good measure.
-- Martin Erat had 20:36 in ice time, a season high for him and only the second time this season he topped 20 minutes. Erat has five assists in his last five games, including the helper he had this afternoon.
In the end…
At this point, you take the points where you can get them, however you can earn them. The Caps had a chance to put this game away early with three goals (and what should have been four) in the first period. But no lead is safe with this team, and it was simply a case of outracing the usual demons – losing focus after a goal, letting teams back into games, underwhelming goaltending.
However, the Caps did have balance – five skaters with goals, nine with points – and did not allow momentum changes to overwhelm them. They had secondary scoring, they had stretches in which they exerted great pressure on Red Wing skaters in their own end. Actually, what they had in the end was the puck on Alex Ovechkin’s stick, and that made all the difference.