As the clock ticked down to the final minute of play on Tuesday at Nationwide Arena in Columbus, overtime seemed to be a looming certainty. The Caps and Blue Jackets were tied at 2-2 after Washington successfully completed killing off a Jakub Vrana hi-sticking minor with 71 seconds remaining in regulation.
But Nicklas Backstrom netted a milestone goal – the 200
th of his NHL career – with just 42.9 seconds remaining, enabling the Caps to skate off with a 3-2 regulation win over the stunned Jackets, who tumbled to fifth place in the Metropolitan Division standings by virtue of Tuesday’s setback.
“[T.J.] Oshie picked it up and fed me back door,” says Backstrom. “That was actually nice.”
Backstrom is just the fifth Caps player in franchise history to score as many as 200 goals in a Washington sweater.
“Obviously I’m honored to be that [fifth] guy,” says Backstrom. “But throughout the years I’ve been playing with a lot of awesome, great players that helped me get there, so it’s a credit to them.”
For the 10
th time in their last 11 games, the Capitals fell down 1-0 in Tuesday’s game, and they did so quite early in the contest. Caps goalie Braden Holtby made a pad stop on Nick Foligno’s shot, but Columbus pivot Alexander Wennberg got to the rebound before anyone in a white sweater could do so. Wennberg bumped it to the point for David Savard, and Savard wristed a shot past Holtby at 1:58 of the first for a 1-0 Columbus lead.
The Caps got that one back quickly, victimizing a beleaguered Blue Jackets penalty killing outfit less than three minutes after Savard’s strike.
Backstrom took a neutral zone feed from Evgeny Kuznetsov and gained the Columbus zone. Backstrom and Kuznetsov exchanged the puck once more as they assumed their customary extra-man positions, and then Backstrom pushed the puck to John Carlson at the right point. Carlson’s one-time blast tied the game at 1-1 at 4:54 of the first. The goal was the eighth permitted in the last dozen Columbus penalty-killing missions.
Washington went in front at the five-minute mark of the second period, getting a Tom Wilson rush goal that started with a sublime breakout feed from Backstrom.
Backstrom slipped a pass through the skates of a Jackets player and onto Carlson’s tape. Carlson went to Christian Djoos, who carried through neutral ice before dishing laterally to Alex Ovechkin just inside the Columbus line. Ovechkin spotted and fed Wilson, who was driving toward the back post with some room. Wilson ducked back toward the middle and tucked the puck five-hole on Jackets goalie Sergei Bobrovsky to give the visiting Capitals a 2-1 lead. All five Washington skaters touched the puck during the breakout and scoring sequence.
Washington was unable to hold a trio of one-goal leads in its previous outing on Sunday against Vegas, and the Jackets tied the game with 6:05 remaining in the third. Just after the Caps successfully snuffed a Columbus power play, Jackets center Brandon Dubinsky clanked the iron from in tight, but got the puck right back and tucked it home to make it a 2-2 game.
When Vrana was sent to the box for hi-sticking Jackets forward Artemi Panarin with 3:11 left, Columbus had an opportunity to take the two points in regulation and inch closer to the Capitals in the Metropolitan Division standings. The Jackets managed a couple of Seth Jones point shots on the ensuing power play, and Holtby stopped both of them. Brooks Orpik blocked the Jackets’ best look during those two minutes, a Panarin shot try from the right circle in the waning seconds of the kill.
Caps coach Barry Trotz sent Backstrom out with Ovechkin and Oshie, and after shots by both Backstrom and Ovechkin missed the mark, Oshie found the rebound of Ovechkin’s shot and shoveled a prefect backhand feed to Backstrom. He pounded a one-timer behind Bobrovsky, lifting the Caps back into the lead with just 42.9 seconds remaining in regulation.
“Well first, there was a puck flying toward my face area,” recounts Oshie of Washington’s game-winning goal. “And then as I turned around to get the puck, I saw Nick over there – I saw a white jersey over there. So I just tried to get it over there as quick as possible, and then he did the rest.”
Jay Beagle blocked a Zach Werenski shot and Holtby denied Panarin from in tight to seal the deal and send the Capitals back to the District with two points. Holtby stopped 37 of 39 shots to earn his 27th win of the season.
With a power-play goal in the first and a pair of clutch kills in the third, the Caps won the special teams battle – something they hadn’t been able to do in losing their two previous games – and the game as well.
“I think it was good for our confidence,” says Trotz. “Killing penalties is a little bit of a mindset; you have to be really committed at it. And lately I didn’t feel like some of the commitment was really there. I thought today guys responded in that area. We got two key kills in the last 10 minutes of the game, so real huge on that aspect of it.
“It played well because we had a lot of blocks today. [The Jackets] were coming hard, they funnel pucks to the nets from all angles and they crash and bang. I thought we had a lot of commitment there and we got a couple of key saves when we needed them. Our special teams today got us a goal, and our penalty kill was real solid for us. I really liked our game. I knew they were going to come, and [it was] a huge game and a huge response.”