Nic Dowd got the Caps off and running early in the first period when he was running in tandem with Devante Smith-Pelly through the high slot, redirecting a drive by John Carlson past Calgary goalie Mike Smith on the glove side to give the Caps a 1-0 lead just three minutes into the contest.
The Dowd goal stood up for almost 15 minutes before the Flames answered. Mikael Backlund weaved his way through the neutral zone and across the blue line into the Caps’ zone, getting position on defenseman Jonas Siegenthaler. Shielding the puck with his body, he got goalie Braden Holtby to bite on a fake draw to his forehand, and then he slipped a backhand past Holtby’s left pad to tie the game at the 17:37 mark.
Washington restored the lead less than two minutes later when Dmitrij Jaskin struck in the last minute of the period. The Caps worked the puck around the back of the Calgary net and out to the left point to Brooks Orpik. His drive to the net was blocked in front, and from a scrum in front of Smith, Jaskin jumped in and stuffed the loose puck past Smith to give the Caps a 2-1 lead with 35.7 seconds left in the period.
-- Calgary had a 31-19 edge in shot attempts, even though the teams had 13 shots on goal apiece in the period.
-- Washington had 19 credited hits in the period, four by Tom Wilson and three by Brett Connolly.
-- Lars Eller led the team with four shots on goal for the period.
-- John Carlson had three blocked shots.
-- The Caps had none of their shot attempts blocked in the period; they blocked 13 Calgary shot attempts.
It did not take the Capitals a full minute into the second period to extend their lead. Matthew Tkachuk could not get a handle on a loose puck in the defensive zone, and it was poke out of his reach by Evgeny Kuznetsov to Tom Wilson, who slid it over to Jakub Vrana on the left side. Vrana sent the puck back to Wilson, and from the top of the right wing circle, Wilson wristed a shot past Smith’s blocker on the far side to make it 3-1 just 54 seconds into the period.
Less than two minutes later, Calgary shaved the Caps’ lead back to one. Calgary worked the puck from low to high, and a T.J. Brodie drive from the top of the zone was tipped twice, the latter by Garnet Hathaway and past goalie Braden Holtby at the 2:17 mark of the period.
-- The Caps evened up the shot attempts through two periods at 48 apiece and held a 29-20 edge in shots on goal.
-- Washington had a 29-11 advantage in credited hits through 40 minutes and a 21-7 edge in blocked shots.
-- The Caps had three power plays in the period and recorded five shots on goal in six minutes with the man advantage. No goals, though.
Calgary might be the best third period team in the league, bringing an 80-41 third period goal differential into this game. The Caps almost weathered the storm, killing off two Flames power plays in the first half of the period. But the Flames got the equalizer in the 13th minute, Elias Lindholm redirecting a Johnny Gaudreau drive past Holtby at even strength to make it a 3-3 game.
That is how the score remained until the last minute. On a late power play, Evgeny Kuznetsov snaked his way through the neutral zone an over the blue line, crossing right to left. Kuznetsov launched a shot across his body that beat Smith on the blocker side, inside the near post and under the cross bar to give the Caps a 4-3 lead with 56.2 seconds left in regulation.
The Caps kept the Flames off the board as the clock ticked to zero, and as Nicklas Backstrom planted Johnny Gaudreau into the glass as time expired, the teams squared off, Brooks Orpik and Matthew Tkachuk the headline matchup. Peace settled over the land, though, and the Caps’ seven-game losing streak was over.
-- The win was just the Caps’ second against the Flames in their last five meetings in Washington.
-- Washington had a season-high 40 shots on home ice. Twice they had 39 shots on goal, both in losses, to Arizona on Veterans Day and in overtime to San Jose on January 22nd.
-- Brooks Orpik’s five-minute major for fighting was his first major penalty this season.
-- Evgeny Kuznetsov had a goal and an assist, his tenth multipoint game of the season. He joins John Carlson (15), Alex Ovechkin (14), and Nicklas Backstrom (11) in double digit multi-point games this season.
-- Lars Eller left the game with a lower-body injury and did not return. Unfortunate, since in 6:07 of ice time he had an assist, four shots on goal, and won three of five faceoffs.
-- The Caps out-hit the Flames, 34-14. Tom Wilson led the team with six.
-- Dmitrij Jaskin recorded his first goal since December 8th and posted his first goal as a Capital on home ice. He also had four shots on goal, four hits, and three blocked shots in 11:48 of ice time. He earned the game’s second star.
-- Chandler Stephenson started the game on the Caps’ top line with Nicklas Backstrom and T.J. Oshie in Alex Ovechkin’s absence (suspension). He did not have a shot attempt in 15:22 of ice time.
-- Fifteen of the 18 skaters recorded at least one blocked shot, John Carlson leading the team with four.
-- Braden Holtby won his first game on home ice in more than a month. He last won at Capital One Arena on December 27th, a 3-1 win over Carolina.
In the end…
If yo are going to start the post-All-Star Game portion of the season, there is hardly a better way to do it than to grind out a win against one of the best teams in the league, missing your leading scorer, and losing a key forward in-game. That is what the Caps did in as focused an effort as they have displayed in weeks. The Caps played the game in a manner familiar to fans who remember how they marched through last spring’s postseason. It could be a preview of things to come, both as the regular season winds to its end and in terms of a potential opponent in the spring. It certainly did have a playoff air about it.