Two Hundo – Nicklas Backstrom picked a great time to net the 200
th goal of his NHL career. With time winding down in regulation and the Caps knotted up in a 2-2 tie with the Blue Jackets in Columbus on Tuesday night, Backstrom took a feed from T.J. Oshie and cranked a one-timer behind Blue Jackets goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky to lift the Caps into a 3-2 lead with just 42.9 seconds remaining in regulation.
The Caps hung on to halt a short, two-game slide without collecting any points, matching their longest such dry spell of the season. Despite falling behind early, despite surrendering a slim lead late in the game, and despite being tasked with two penalty killing missions in the third period, the Caps were able to claim the two points at night’s end, and they were able to do so without the Jackets getting even one point.
“It was a big game for us,” says Caps goaltender Braden Holtby. “We take pride in bouncing back after losses, and wanted to put together a better, complete game. I thought [Sunday against] Vegas was a step in the right direction, and I thought we were even better tonight.
“I thought [the Jackets] executed well, too. [It was] a really good hockey game. I think they were desperate and it showed. We matched it, and it created good hockey.”
The two teams meet again on Friday in Washington and will get together later this month, on Feb. 26, in Columbus to conclude their season’s series for 2017-18.
“That was a little more of the playoff determined feel that we want with our hockey club, and how we want to play the game,” says Oshie. “They tied it up late, and it seemed like no one hung their head. We lined up for the next faceoff and away we went. It’s a good feeling to have and hopefully a trend we can get going here as the games get tighter towards the end of the season.”
Backstrom becomes the fifth player in Washington’s franchise history to reach the 200-goal level.
Bounce Back – Holtby was named the game’s No. 1 star after he stopped 37 of the Jackets’ 39 shots to earn his 27
th victory of the season. Holtby’s strong outing followed a difficult start for the Washington netminder in Pittsburgh on Friday night.
Holtby surrendered six goals on 33 shots to the Penguins in a 7-4 Caps loss, and he was pulled in the third period of that contest, the fourth time this season that he was pulled in favor of Philipp Grubauer.
Holtby has followed up each of those four stars with a victory in his next outing, and he has limited the opposition to two or fewer tallies in each of those four games.
“It was something that was instilled in me early, I guess,” says Holtby. “It was one of those lessons my dad taught me, that bad games happen and if you want to be good, if you want to be great, you can’t have two in a row.
“That’s just something that I’ve always remembered. In this league where there are so many games, it’s just that little extra that makes you focus and regroup and get back to your basics. It’s just one of those things, you go out there and work and battle, and usually you get rewarded for that.”
Holtby is tied with Nashville’s Pekka Rinne for third in the NHL in victories. Tampa Bay’s Andrei Vasilevskiy leads with 31.
“He was huge, especially in the second,” says Caps defenseman John Carlson of Holtby. “We didn’t give [the Jackets] much until we turned it over. But all of their chances almost came off no-brainer, dumb turnovers in our zone or near our zone. He stood tall and allowed us to regain ourselves and play a lot better for the rest of the game.”
You’ll Get Nothing And Like It – Backstrom’s late strike enabled the Caps to earn a late victory in the road barn of a division opponent, snatching a virtually certain standings point away from a team that’s chasing Washington in the standings.
It’s the second time in less than a month that the Caps have done so; Jay Beagle’s goal in Raleigh with 1.3 seconds left on Jan. 12 enabled Washington to get out of town with a 4-3 win over Carolina, leaving the Hurricanes collectively pointless and stunned at night’s end.
Although the Caps sit atop the Metro standings, they’re only nine points clear of the second wild card playoff berth in the Eastern Conference. It’s important for Washington to keep that gap as wide as it can.
“Both teams were playing hard,” says Caps coach Barry Trotz, “and you get down to the last three or four minutes and you’re thinking, ‘This is probably going to overtime.’
“Right after the big kill, the [kill gave us some momentum]. We came out with the Backstrom-Oshie-Ovechkin line, and they got us a key goal right after we had a couple of key kills. You can get momentum from your special teams, and tonight we did.”
According to Elias Sports Bureau, the Caps are the only team in the NHL with two go-ahead goals in the last minute of regulation this season.
Special Delivery – Coming into Tuesday’s game, the Caps had surrendered four power-play goals in their previous five penalty killing missions in their prior two games, both losses.
Facing a Columbus team that has the league’s worst power play despite being hot (7-for-23, 30.4% in previous 10 games) recently, the Caps executed a pair of clutch kills in the third period of Tuesday’s game. The first of those kills protected a 2-1 Washington lead, and the second kept the Jackets from forging a one-goal lead of their own with very little time remaining in regulation.
“It was really important for us,” says Oshie. “At times, our penalty kill hasn’t been as good as we expect it to be, and I think as good as it can be. Tonight, we got tested in some key moments, and the guys came up big – a couple guys with some big blocks and Holts with some big saves. That’s important to get that going as we get to the end of the season here. A good penalty kill is very important when it comes down to the biggest time of the year, and that’s the playoffs.”
Washington also got a power-play goal from Carlson in the first as it cashed in on its lone power play opportunity of the evening.
Climbing The Ladder – Carlson netted his eighth goal of the season and his fourth power-play goal of 2017-18. It was also the 22
nd power-play goal of his NHL career, moving him one ahead of Al Iafrate and into sole possession of eighth place all-time among Caps defensemen. With 53 power-play goals in a Washington sweater, Sergei Gonchar is Washington’s all-time franchise leader in career extra-man tallies by a blueliner.
Quartet Of Helpers – Caps defenseman Christian Djoos recorded an assist for the fourth straight game, extending his career best points and assist streak to four.
Seven Down – Tuesday’s game ended a stretch of seven straight one-game road trips for Washington, which has a total of 19 one-game journeys this season. The Caps came through that stretch quite nicely, posting a 4-1-2 mark in the seven games.
By The Numbers – Matt Niskanen led the Caps with 23:17 in ice time … Ovechkin led Washington with eight shots on net and a dozen shot attempts … Tom Wilson led the Caps with five hits, and he netted his seventh goal of the season to match his single-season career best … Jay Beagle led the Capitals with three blocked shots.