They gave the middle finger to Fenwick. Then they used a three-goal burst in a span of 4:52 late in the second period to catch and pass the Chicago Blackhawks to give them the winning margin in a 3-2 win at United Center on Friday night.
It did not have the look of a winning evening for the Caps as the game began. The teams went scoreless for the first 17 minutes of the first period, but the Blackhawks had the better of the play, outshooting the Caps to that point, 14-8. On their 15th shot of the period, Brandon Saad finished a 2-on-1 rush with Marian Hossa to give Chicago a 1-0 lead at the first intermission.
Less than a minute into the second period, Duncan Keith celebrated his 700th NHL game by slamming a rebound of a Brad Richards shot past goalie Braden Holtby on a power play to make it 2-0, Chicago. At that point it looked as if the Caps were going to go quietly to their sixth straight loss. Through 15 minutes of the period the Blackhawks enjoyed that two goal lead and a 24-14 edge in shots on goal. Then, things took a turn.
As the clock ticked down to the five-minute mark of the second period, Marcus Johansson stole a pass in the Capitals’ zone and fed Andre Burakovsky at the Caps’ blue line. With Chicago defenseman Brent Seabrook having pinched in on the play, Burakovsky took off with Troy Brouwer on what became a 2-1on-1 break with oply Keith back for the Blackhawks. As Burakovsky and Brouwer broke into the Chicago zone, Keith laid out to deny Burakovsky a passing lane to Brouwer. Burakovsky then called his own number and wristed a shot over goalie Corey Crawford’s glove and under the crossbar on the far side to halve the Blackhawks’ lead.
Four minutes later the game was tied. The Caps worked the puck in deep, Marcus Johansson spinning it around the end boards from the left wing wall. Brouwer was there to accept the puck, then send it in front to Burakovsky, whose shot was muffled in front. The puck slid out to Matt Niskanen at the top of the right wing faceoff circle. His shot attempt rolled off his stick but right onto that of Johansson who turned and fired the puck past Crawfoed’s right pad to tie the game with just 47 seconds left in the second period.
That might have been how the teams went to the locker room for the second intermission. The Caps kept up the offensive zone pressure, though, and it was rewarded just before the horn at the end of the period. It began with Joel Ward behind the Chicago net sliding the puck to Jason Chimera in the corner to Crawford’s right. Chimera sent the puck out to Karl Alzner at the left point, and Alzner relayed it to Matt Niskanen at the right point. Niskanen had nothing but open ice to wind and fire, and his shot was tipped by Ward over Crawford’s glove to give the Caps a 3-2 lead with just 4.4 seconds left in the period.
The Caps then put the game in Holtby’s hands, and the goalie, who had been struggling in the face of low shot volumes, stopped all 13 shots he faced in the third period to preserve the 3-2 win and end the Caps’ losing streak at five games.
-- The 40 shots on goal for Chicago is a high for shots allowed this season by the Caps, only the second time that they allowed more than 30 shots in a game, and the first time they allowed a team more than ten shot in each period.
-- Andre Burakovsky broke a personal three-game streak without a point with his goal and assist. His performance lifted him into second place in scoring among NHL rookies (3-7-10).
-- Marcus Johansson’s two points (1-1-2) made it four straight games with points (3-3-6). His goal was his sixth, leaving him tied for second on the club with Alex Ovechkin.
-- Joel Ward took over the team lead in goals with his game-winner, his seventh overall and his second game-winning goal of the season, which also leads the team.
-- Matt Niskanen’s two assists broke a five-game streak without a point.
-- What does Barry Trotz think of Nicklas Backstrom’s game apart from his offense? With the Caps nursing a one-goal lead, Backstrom played 5:38 of the last 11 minutes of the contest and 2:33 of the last 3:19.
-- Corsi was not kind to the Caps. Chicago out-attempted the Caps, 66-32. That’s right, 66-32. It was 53-27 at 5-on-5.
-- This was the tenth time in his career that Braden Holtby faced 40 or more shots in a game. In those contests he is 6-4-0, 2.63, .936.
-- Brooks Laich returned to the lineup for this game and skated a modest 12:54 in ice time. The odd part of that was a stretch in the second period in which on three consecutive shifts he skated six seconds, eight seconds, and seven seconds. By the third period, though, he was skating a more normal load, finishing the last 20 minutes with 5:16 in ice time.
-- The Caps held the Blackhawks without a goal in the third period. It was the first time the Caps shut out an opponent in the final period since they did so in a 3-1 win over Calgary back on October 25th. In the five games following that win, all losses, the Caps allowed a total of nine goals in the last period. The Caps are 4-1-0 when holding a team scoreless in the third period, 1-4-3 when they do not.
In the end…
The Caps are Team Contrary when it comes to possession numbers in their first 13 games. They were “playing” the right way in their five-game losing streak but getting no reward. Against the Blackhawks the home team carried play for most of the game, but the Caps had that one burst at the end of the second period to carry the day. In that respect it was Braden Holtby’s night to shine. Having played inconsistently in recent starts, Holtby shook off goals on consecutive shots at the end of the first and the start of the second period and slammed the door on any further Chicago hijinks. It might not have been the way the coaching staff drew it up, but it is a just reward for a team that was frustrated in recent games while winning the fancystat wars. There is balance in the realm of hockey.