Washington’s top forward trio of Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and Tom Wilson has been a productive group since they were first put together back on Nov. 22, but it was Ovechkin lighting the lamps and the other two helping out. With the Chicago Blackhawks in town on Wednesday night, that trio supplied the Caps with all the offense they would require in a span of less than four minutes of the first period.
Backstrom, Wilson and Ovechkin, respectively, scored in a span of just 208 seconds in the back half of the first frame, propelling the Capitals on their way to a 6-2 triumph over the Hawks, Washington’s third straight triumph.
“It was a very good night for them,” says Caps coach Barry Trotz. “I thought they came out with a very good focus, they played quick and they played heavy. They sort of took the game over. They were real good.”
It took the Caps a while to get on track in Wednesday’s game, but once they did, they poured it on. Washington took a 1-0 lead at 11:54 of the first when Backstrom netted his first goal since Oct. 14, snapping a string of 21 straight games without lighting the lamp. Backstrom fired the puck from the slot, past Chicago goaltender Anton Forsberg. Linemates Tom Wilson and Alex Ovechkin each made quick, sharp precision passes to set up the tic-tac-toe strike.
“Tom and I had a chat today,” says Ovechkin, “and we said, ‘Let’s set up Backy.’ And we did, and he scored a goal.”
The goal ended the second-longest goal-scoring drought of Backstrom’s NHL career.
“Obviously it’s nice to score,” says Backstrom, “but I haven’t really been thinking about it too much. We’ve been winning these last two or three games. But as a hockey player, you always want to score, right?”
Just under three minutes later, the Caps scored again, winning an offensive-zone draw in the immediate aftermath of the final television timeout of the first period. Backstrom won the puck back to Christian Djoos at the left point, and Djoos fed the puck down the left wing boards to Wilson at the half wall. From there, Wilson put a shot on net, and it beat Forsberg on the short side for a 2-0 Washington lead at 14:53.
The Caps weren’t even finished scoring on that shift. From deep in his own end, Washington rearguard Dmitry Orlov softly lofted a “go deep, and I’ll look for you” pass into neutral ice, and Wilson outraced a trio of Hawks to get to it, collecting it near the Chicago line and skating in on a breakaway. Forsberg stopped Wilson’s backhander, but all three defenders had their back to Ovechkin, who motored in untouched to pot the rebound just 29 seconds after Wilson’s goal.
Ovechkin’s goal chased Forsberg to the bench, and ex-Islanders farmhand J-F Berube replaced ex-Blue Jackets farmhand Forsberg between the pipes for Chicago. The Caps put a shot on Berube 35 seconds after he took over, but it would be nearly 18 minutes before they would manage another.
Meanwhile, the Hawks cut into Washington’s lead, getting a Lance Bouma goal with 2:06 remaining in the first. Bouma, who was robbed from point blank range early in the first, put back the rebound of a Connor Murphy shot.
Washington didn’t have anything going on offensively in the second, and the Caps had to kill a pair of penalties in the first 11 minutes of the middle period in order to maintain their 3-1 lead.
Late in the frame, Wilson drew an interference call on Bouma, putting the Caps on the power play for the first time in the game. Washington’s power play has been clicking of late, and the Caps were able to restore their three-goal bulge with a Brett Connolly goal at 18:32 of the second. Connolly banged home the rebound of an Ovechkin shot for his third goal in as many games, and his second power-play goal in as many games.
With T.J. Oshie out of the lineup, Connolly is filling in for him on the first power play unit. With power-play goals in consecutive games, he has matched his single-season career best of two extra-man tallies.
“It was good,” says Connolly, of his hot spell. “I was excited to play with those guys tonight. Backy made a good play to me right before I scored, and it’s just fun when you’re playing with good players, especially with those guys. They’ve been playing together for so long, and they’re making plays all over the offensive zone on the power play. It was a lot of fun tonight, and I was happy to get one.”
Midway through the third, Ovechkin set up Kuznetsov’s 10
th goal of the season to lift the Caps to a 5-1 lead. At the end of his shift, Ovechkin surveyed from behind the Chicago cage. Spotting Kuznetsov in front, the Caps’ captain made a quick feed to his comrade, and Kuznetsov whipped a shot past Berube at 10:23.
Chicago captain Jonathan Toews scored an unassisted breakaway goal after a Caps turnover high in the Chicago zone. Toews’ goal made it a 5-2 game with 3:42 left.
Wilson accounted for the 6-2 final with a long distance empty-netter at 17:40, sending the Caps to the victory column for the third straight time, and handing the Hawks their fifth consecutive setback (0-3-2).
“It’s the same thing we’ve been saying,” says Hawks coach Joel Quenneville. “We need to be better with the puck. We had the puck with nobody on us and we’d dump it in, or we’d put it where we can’t get it or keep it. We had some opportunities to sustain pucks. And then the urgency in the puck area and getting to the net to make it tougher. When we do that, you get some ugly goals and that’s what we need.”
With Wednesday night’s production bonanza, the Ovechkin-Backstrom-Wilson trio has now rolled up 11 goals and 26 points in the seven games since they were put together. The Capitals have won six of those seven games.
“It was definitely clicking early, playing with two of the best players in the world,” says Wilson. “It was nice to see Nicky get it started for us. [Ovechkin] and I were talking about that in the bagel room before the game, how it would be nice to see 19 put one back in the net, and he did. He’s one of the best teammates and a great character guy. And [Ovechkin] just scores.
“It was fun to all get on the board quick there, and the team did a good job of bending throughout the game, but not breaking and just making sure that we managed it right.”