The Caps came into the game with the seventh-best record in the league when scoring first in games (19-7-0), so it was a good sign when Andre Burakovsky put the Caps on top in the seventh minute of the first period. Michael Kempny got the play started when he kept a loose puck from exiting the offensive zone at the left point. He fed it to Burakovsky, who circled around the top of the left wing circle before sliding the puck to Matt Niskanen at the top of the zone. Niskanen moved the puck to T.J. Oshie at the top of the right wing circle. After stepping up to draw the defense to his side, Oshie fed the puck in front where Burakovsky was crossing. He re-directed Oshie’s feed past the right pad of goalie Semyon Varlamov, and the Caps had a 1-0 lead at the 6:31 mark.
Washington scored again on a power play late in the period, or so they thought. Nicklas Backstrom gathered a loose puck in a manner reminiscent of Lars Eller’s Stanley Cup winning goal last spring, fishing it out from behind Varlamov and snapping it into the back of the net, but video replay showed that a referee’s whistle blew the play dead before Backstrom got the blade of his stick on the puck, and the goal was overturned.
-- Washington had a 12-9 edge in shots on goal, but Colorado out-attempted the Caps, 29-21.
-- The Caps had 14 blocked shots in the first period, eight skaters recording at least one and led by John Carlson (three).
-- Lars Eller was the only Capital winning a majority of his faceoffs (4-for-6), the team going 7-for-18 overall (38.9 percent).
Colorado scored in the first minute to tie the game, Nathan MacKinnon taking a rebound off the back wall and banking the puck off the right skate of goalie Pheonix Copley at the near post and over the goal line. The Caps challenged the play as being offside, but the referees, after consulting the video, declined to overturn the original ruling, and the Caps were put on a penalty kill as a result.
Washington regained the lead in the ninth minute of the period. On a power play, an Alex Ovechkin drive was muffled, but not controlled by Varlamov. The puck dribbled behind him, and as it was edging to the goal line, Evgeny Kuznetsov poked it home as he was being upended by Patrik Nemeth, the Caps up by a 2-1 margin 8:38 into the period.
-- Colorado had a 16-15 edge in shots for the period, but it was Washington with a 29-27 edge in shot attempts
-- John Carlson matched his first period total with three more blocked shots in the second period.
-- The Caps won 11 of 20 faceoffs in the second period (55.0 percent).
The Caps extended their lead in the first minute of the third period on an odd goal. A Jakub Vrana shot was stopped and leaked out to the right wing wall where Matt Niskanen jumped on it. Wasting no effort, he snapped a shot at the Colorado cage where Varlamov got his blocker on it. However, the puck deflected off the bottom of the blocker and into the far side of the net to give the Caps a two-goal lead 34 seconds into the period.
Colorado got that one back less than five minutes later with Gabriel Landeskog stretched out and poked the puck into the slot where Mikko Rantanen collected it, turned, and snapped a shot past Copley to make it 3-2 at the 5:10 mark.
Things got interesting mid-way through the period. Ian Cole laid out Evgeny Kuznetsov in open ice, and Tom Wilson was having none of it. He tore into Cole, raining Thor’s Hammer on and about Cole’s head and shoulders to remind him that taking such liberties have consequences. Cole was assessed a major penalty for interference, a fighting major, and a game misconduct. Wilson got an instigator and a fighting major. Unfortunately, the Caps could not convert was would be an abbreviated major power play.
Failing to take advantage of that opportunity would haunt the Caps later. Colin Wilson tied the game with less than three minutes in regulation when, as he was approaching the goal line extended to Copley’s right, he snapped a shot that ramped up off Copley’s stick and through the pads to make it a 3-3 game with 2:07 left.
It was a back-and-forth affair in the extra session, and the game came down to a bit of justice and the sort of goal Caps fans will recall from happier times. The game-deciding play started in odd fashion. Dmitry Orlov shoved one Avalanche player into another behind the Capitals’ net, freeing the puck out in front to Alex Ovechkin. He turned up ice and spotted Kuznetsov breaking out. Taking the stretch feed from Ovechkin, Kuznetsov skated in alone on Varlamov and slipped the puck between the pads to end the contest 4:12 into the overtime.
-- Evgeny Kuznetsov’s power play goal was his 27th as a Capital, tying him with Joe Juneau for 30th place on the franchise all-time list.
-- The two-goal game was Kuznetsov’s 11th as a Capital and his second this season, the first one coming on Opening Night against Boston.
-- With an assist to go with his two goals, Kuznetsov recorded his second three-point game this season and first since he went 1-3-4 in a 5-2 win over the Vegas Golden Knights on October 10th. It was the 20th three-point game in his career, tying him with Calle Johansson and Sergei Gonchar for 10th place on the all-time franchise list.
-- Ovechkin springing Kuznetsov with a long stretch pass up the middle for a breakaway goal through the five-home in overtime. Remind you of anything? ...
-- Ovechkin earned the primary assist on both Kuznetsov goals, his fourth two-assist game this season and 102nd of his career, second in franchise history (Nicklas Backstrom: 144).
-- Matt Niskanen had a goal and an assist, his fourth two-point game this season and 28th as a Capital. Those points Niskanen recorded were his first points on home ice since he had an assist in a 6-3 win over the New Jersey Devils on November 30th. He snapped a 14-game streak without a point on home ice.
-- The 42 shots on goal recorded by the Caps is a season-high on home ice and the third game this season in which they had 40 or more shots on goal. All three of those games have come in the last 15 days (44 in a 6-3 loss in Toronto to the Maple Leafs and 40 in a 4-3 win over Calgary Flames). They are 2-1-0 in those games.
-- Brooks Orpik was the only Capital without a shot on goal (or a shot attempt, for that matter), but he did have five blocked shots.
-- Pheonix Copley ended a personal four-game losing streak (0-3-1).
-- Andre Burakovsky can smile. His goal was his second in his last 20 games and his first in a home ice win since the win over New Jersey on November 20th.
In the end…
This could have been a disastrous game for the Caps. They blew a two-goal lead to a team that has been struggling and played with fire in allowing the game to go to a 3-on-3 overtime where Colorado’s offensively-skilled forwards can wreak havoc. But the Russian troika came through in the end, Dmitry Orlov with a timely hit to free the puck, Alex Ovechkin picking it up and spotting a streaking teammate, and Evgeny Kuznetsov sending Caps fans home in a happier mood than it seemed they might when Colorado tied the game late. But while there were ragged spots, not to mention quick whistles that negated goals and scoring chances for the Caps than might have made this a blowout, the team played a decent game against an opponent that almost slipped out with a win. Two points are two points. Take them, and move on. Before the referees blow another whistle...