But after spotting the visitors the game’s first goal – a shorthanded one at that – the Caps fought back and scored the game’s last three goals to beat the Kings, 3-1, at Verizon Center.
The Kings got their goal in what was, from a Caps point of view, an ugly series of events. It started well enough when Jordan Nolan was sent off at the 16:01 mark for a boarding penalty. It looked even better when Marcus Johansson scooped up a loose puck along the right wing wall, circled out, and with just one King defender back tried to feather a pass to Alex Ovechkin on the left side. However, that defender was Drew Doughty, and the premier defenseman laid out to get a stick on the passing attempt. Doughty managed to get the puck out of the defensive zone where Dustin Brown picked it up. Brown skated the puck inside the Caps’ blue line but got no further. T.J. Oshie and John Carlson worked to separate Brown from the puck, but with two Caps and one King along the wall, there was space for Anze Kopitar to grab the loose puck and skate in on goalie Philipp Grubauer. Kopitar’s first shot attempt was stopped by Grubauer, but the rebound came right back the Kopitar, who made good on his second attempt for the shorthanded goal at 16:43.
It looked as if the Kings would be content thereafter to just milk the one-goal lead for the duration of the contest, and when the game remained 1-0 deep into the second period, it looked as if they might be successful. But, with the clock ticking under a minute to play in the period, the Kings could not move the puck up and out of the defensive zone from along the wall. A sliding puck was stopped at the blue line by Brooks Orpik, who sent it across to Dmitry Orlov at the right point. Orlov wound up to fire a slap shot, but it turned into a slap pass to the slot where Andre Burakovsky was setting up. Burakovsky redirected the puck past goalie Jonathan Quick, and with 49 seconds left in the second period the game was tied, 1-1.
The third period looked as if the teams would carry the tie into extra time. Then the Caps hitched up their pants and went to work in deep. Evgeny Kuznetsov circled out from the right wing corner and tried to stuff the puck past Quick, but he lost the puck off the blade of his stick. Kevin Gravel batted the puck back into the corner, but Burakovsky got to it before Jeff Carter. Kuznetsov reversed direction on Carter and darted for the net. His stuff attempt was turned aside by Quick, and it was Justin Williams jumping up to grab the loose biscuit. Williams circled behind the net and found Kuznetsov at the post to Quick’s right, and Kuznetsov snapped a shot past Quick’s right pad from a severe angle to put the Caps up, 2-1, with 2:02 left in regulation.
The Kings challenged the call of a goal on the ice on the basis of interference with Quick by Williams. The call on the ice was left to stand, though, and it was then a case of the Caps keeping the Kings off the scoreboard in the last two minutes. The Caps kept three Los Angeles shot attempts from getting to Grubauer, and Jason Chimera potted an empty net goal with 8.6 seconds left for the final 3-1 margin.
-- Brooks Orpik returned to the ice after missing 40 games to injury. His assist on the Andre Burakovsky goal was his first point since recording an assist on October 23rd in a 7-4 win over the Edmonton Oilers.
-- Burakovsky’s goal was his eighth in his last ten games. He has points in 12 of his last 14 games, over which he is 8-9-17, plus-8.
-- Jason Chimera recorded his third goal in four games on what would be his only shot on goal for the game. He now has 16 goals on 115 shots for the season, his 13.9 percent shooting being his best since he was 15.6 percent for the Edmonton Oilers in his first full NHL season in 2002-2003.
-- It should hardly have been a surprise that the Kings won the Corsi battle. They are, after all, tops in the league in that department. They unleashed 56 shot attempts at 5-on-5 to 39 for the Caps (58.9 percent Corsi-for).
-- The 40 shots on goal allowed by the Caps was the most allowed since the Pittsburgh Penguins recorded 45 shots on goal in a 4-1 Caps win on December 14th. It was the fourth time in the last five games that the Caps allowed 35 or more shots on goal.
-- The Caps had 32 shots on goal of their own, almost a third of them (10) from Alex Ovechkin.
-- No Capital won as more than 50 percent of their draws taken, and it was Jeff Carter almost single-handedly doing the damage there for the Kings. He won 13 of 16 draws against the Caps.
-- Washington killed off all three Los Angeles power plays, breaking a streak of three straight games in which they allowed a power play goal. They failed on all five of their own power play opportunities, breaking a three-game streak in which they recorded a power play goal.
-- Tom Wilson had his first fight in 11 games when he went with Luke Schenn in the second period. It was just his fifth fight of the season in 55 games after recording 12 in 67 games last season.
-- Philipp Grubauer was the clear number one star of the contest. He faced a season high 40 shots, and it was the most he faced in an NHL game since he faced 41 shots against the Carolina Hurricanes in a 4-2 win on December 20, 2013. His 39 saves was one short of his career high, set when he stopped 40 of 45 shots in a 5-2 loss to the New York Islanders in his first NHL start on March 9, 2013. He has a .945 save percentage in his last nine appearances.
In the end…
This might have been a Stanley Cup finals preview. If it was, it will be a tight series played by two teams with different systems but similar approaches to the game. What was on display in this game was a tend-to-business approach by both teams that features an utter lack of memory. Bad things that happen are not dwelled upon, and good things are not savored past the moment. Both teams just go to the next faceoff and get back to work. For the Kings, that now means heading to St. Louis to shake off this loss and face the Blues. For the Caps, it means heading to Brooklyn on Thursday to take on the Islanders. Fans of both teams might be looking a bit further ahead, though.