Down a goal with just over three minutes left in regulation, and with a five-day “bye week” looming at game’s end, you could understand the Caps leaning heavily toward being on a beach somewhere at that point of the contest. But instead, they leaned into those final three-plus minutes, and came away with a wild and improbable 4-3 regulation victory over the Carolina Hurricanes in Raleigh.
Jay Beagle scored for Washington with less than two seconds remaining in regulation, giving the Caps the lead and capping off a comeback that took root some three minutes earlier when Brett Connolly scored the tying goal.
With less than 20 seconds remaining, Beagle won a draw in his own end of the ice. With 1.3 seconds left, he tapped home a Nicklas Backstrom feed from the back door, beating Carolina netminder Cam Ward and ultimately, the Hurricanes.
“Obviously Backy makes an incredible play there, a stick lift and then he throws it across,” recounts Beagle. “I’m just crashing the net, eyes closed, and it hits my stick. So there you go.”
A night after the Canes downed the Caps in Washington, the Caps returned the favor in Carolina’s barn.
“I think we probably were [at the beach] on [Thursday],” says Caps coach Barry Trotz, referring to his team’s home ice loss a night earlier. “There’s good leadership in that room. I think everybody recognized that we had to be a little bit better than we were the other night, to see if we could come up with some points. It was good on them.”
The two teams traded power-play goals roughly four minutes apart in the first half of the first frame.
Carolina struck first, getting a Jordan Staal power-play goal from the slot off a perfect feed from ex-Cap Justin Williams at 3:20 of the first period. Staal’s goal – his second in as many nights against Washington – came just 10 seconds after Caps winger Brett Connolly was sent off for interference. The goal was the 200
th of Staal’s NHL career.
Just over four minutes later, the Caps pulled even on a wild extra-man goal. After an almost comically protracted battle for the puck in the corner of the Carolina zone, a scrum that involved nearly all of the skaters on the ice, the puck popped free and drifted to the front of the Carolina net. The pack of players followed it there as the Canes tried to freeze it and the Caps tried to gain control of it and pull the trigger on a shot in another almost comically protracted battle for the biscuit. Alex Ovechkin finally pulled it out of the pile and fed it to Jakub Vrana, whose shot hit the goalpost but ultimately glanced in off a prone Lars Eller at 7:25 of the first. Eller received credit for the goal, marking his fourth straight game with a goal.
Washington forged a one-goal lead early in the second when Ovechkin pounded home a one-timer from his office at the very instant at which a Carolina penalty expired, putting the Caps up 2-1.
Carolina tied the game at 2-2 with its second power-play goal of the night, a Sebastian Aho one-timer from the high slot just ahead of the midpoint of the middle period. The game moved into the third with the two sides even at 2-2.
Early in the third, Carolina retook the lead on a Jeff Skinner rush goal. Skinner made a great shot to beat Caps goalie Philipp Grubauer for just the third five-on-five goal Grubauer has surrendered in his last 404-plus minutes of work.
Connolly’s tying goal at 16:52 goes into the books as an unassisted goal, but T.J. Oshie sure had a lot to do with it. Carolina defenseman Noah Hanifin went behind his net to retrieve the puck while Oshie hounded him with some serious forechecking heat. Hanifin tried to make a play to a teammate in front, but the pass was soft and went instead to Connolly, who is dangerous from that area of the ice. Connolly quickly cashed in to tie the game at 3-3.
“I was kind of the third guy,” says Connolly. “I like to be in that area. Lars and Osh are just so good at forechecking and stripping pucks. Osh just kind of made [Hanifin] uncomfortable, and that’s when mistakes happen. I just saw it come to me, and I just wanted to grab it and get it off as fast as I could. Luckily, it found a hole. It was obviously very good to see that one go in. It was obviously a big moment in the game, and those are always fun.”
At that point of the evening, it sure looked like the Caps would be headed to overtime for the eighth time in their last dozen games, but Backstrom and Beagle had other ideas. Now the Caps can head to the beach with two points, and a six-point lead in the Metropolitan Division standings.
“The power play was really good,” says Trotz. “We got a couple of big goals from there. We’re going to have to work on the penalty kill a little bit. You got big goals when you needed them – Connolly getting one, and then obviously getting that late one there, that’s going to leave a mark there on the other side.”
Asked whether this loss stings more than any other, Carolina’s coach was stoic.
“They feel similar to me,” says Canes coach Bill Peters. “It’s a loss. No points.”
Carolina had a late lead against Washington here 11 nights ago, but wasn’t able to protect it and ended up on the short end of a 5-4 overtime decision against the Caps. This time, the Canes weren’t quite able to get that single point.
“We had an opportunity to put a game away,” rues Peters, “and we gave up two in the last three minutes, roughly. It would have been nice to lock it down and get the two points. It didn’t happen.”