Two nights after they squandered a three-goal lead late in the third period in a demoralizing 7-6 overtime loss to the New York Islanders in Brooklyn, the Detroit Red Wings came to D.C. and nearly did it again. The Wings downed the Caps 5-4 in overtime, but they let a 4-1 third-period lead slip away before winning it on Tomas Tatar’s overtime goal, his second of the game.
“You don’t like giving up the lead,” says Wings coach Jeff Blashill. “But I thought the story of the game for me was I think a lot of people expected us to fold after a tough game [on Friday]. And we’ve had some tough ones. You get kicked and you get back up, and I thought we got back up real well.”
As for the Capitals, they put on a furious and inspiring third-period comeback that got them a standings point, but that rally would not have even been necessary if they hadn’t spent the second period wearing their slippers and pajamas.
Second periods have been problematic for the Capitals at times this season, but it’s difficult to recall a worse 20 minutes of hockey from Washington in any of the 165 full periods the team has played this season. Detroit had 30 shot attempts to just five for the Capitals, the Wings outshot the Caps by 17-2, and Washington managed all of one shot on net in the final 19 minutes and 36 seconds of the middle frame of Sunday’s game.
The Wings broke open a 1-1 tie with three goals on five shots in less than three minutes late in the middle period, and the first two of those tallies were separated by a mere nine seconds.
“Yeah, that was the worst of the year by far,” says Caps winger Brett Connolly. “Guys were not happy in between periods. We’re trying to build our game up here, and trying to get points. And obviously, we got a point. It’s a positive, but guys are not happy in the room. Yeah, not good. I don’t think anybody’s going to be happy tonight, going to sleep. Can’t start like that in games.”
Asked after the contest whether he was angry about his team’s second-period performance or happy that they were able to come back to pick up a point, Caps coach Barry Trotz answered as you’d expect a bench boss to answer.
“Angry about the second period,” replies Trotz. “The first period was fine. I felt that we could have been up a couple of pucks, but we missed on a couple of opportunities, missed the net on some real good chances, and then you come out of that period 1-1.
“Second period, [the Red Wings] were hungry. They were winning the races, they were playing quicker, they were playing better, they were just more determined, more desperate, whatever terms you want to say.”
Washington struck first, doing so on the power play shortly after Devante Smith-Pelly drew a tripping call on Detroit’s Luke Glendening to give the Caps a couple of minutes with the extra man.
The Capitals moved the puck adeptly around the perimeter of the attack zone, with John Carlson putting the puck on a tee for Caps captain Alex Ovechkin. Ovechkin did what Ovechkin does, which is to pound a one-time blast from his left dot office past Detroit netminder Jimmy Howard. The shot went short side and snuck through a very narrow opening for a 1-0 Washington lead at 4:20 of the first frame.
Detroit pulled even in the back half of the first with an assist from some puck mismanagement on the part of the Capitals. Connolly tried to execute a pass from the left half wall to the right point, but Wings pivot Frans Nielsen read the play and poked the puck out to neutral ice. Caps defenseman Matt Niskanen tried to whack the puck in a northerly direction, but it bounced off Detroit’s Justin Abdelkader, giving the winger a breakaway. He deked and beat Caps goalie Braden Holtby to make it 1-1 at 13:37 of the first.
Washington spent the second period mostly in its own end of the ice. The Caps killed off a pair of Detroit power plays, but fell down by a goal less than a minute after the second of those kills. Darren Helm put a harmless shot on net off the rush, but Holtby didn’t control the rebound, and no one picked up Luke Glendening, who tapped the rebound in to put the Wings up 2-1 at 16:53.
Nine seconds later, it was 3-1. Henrik Zetterberg picked Niskanen’s pocket behind the Washington net and quickly dished to Anthony Mantha in front. No one in a red sweater was in the same area code as Mantha, and he snapped it behind Holtby from the slot to make it 3-1.
With 10.8 seconds left in the second, Detroit netted its fourth unanswered goal off the rush. Brooks Orpik turned the puck over in the attack zone to fuel the Wings rush, and Tatar sniped a Dylan Larkin feed to the shelf to put the Caps in a three-goal ditch just ahead of intermission.
Washington came out with some fire in the third, which mostly made folks wonder why they hadn’t rubbed some sticks together sooner. Trotz moved Connolly onto the fourth line with Jay Beagle and Devante Smith-Pelly, and that trio combined for a couple of third-period strikes to move the Caps to within a goal.
Connolly scored his 14th of the season at 2:32 to make it a 4-2 game, and Smith-Pelly made a sweet feed to Dmitry Orlov, who cranked a slapper past Howard at 14:02.
With the Holtby on the bench for an extra attacker and time winding down in regulation, the Wings blocked four Ovechkin shots in a span of 72 seconds. Between the second and third of those blocks, Detroit’s Danny DeKeyser went to the box for holding, giving the Caps a six-on-four manpower advantage.
Holding the puck along the right half wall and surveying as the clock moved toward zeroes, Nicklas Backstrom elected to call his own number, ripping a laser of a wrist shot past Howard to tie it up at 4-4 with just 16.7 seconds remaining in regulation.
Backstrom’s second clutch tally in less than a week – he authored the game-winning goal in the final minute of Tuesday’s 3-2 Caps victory in Columbus – enabled the Caps to come away with a point they arguably did not deserve, but Washington would not be able to claim that second point.
The Caps had more puck possession in overtime, but they couldn’t find a way to end it on their chances. Tatar took care of that, combining with Larkin for a second time to keep his team from a second-straight ugly setback on the road.
“We’re scoring enough, we’re getting four goals, says Trotz. “We’ve just got to keep them out of our net a little bit. I thought Holts – I mean, we gave up five goals – but I thought Holts played a real strong game for us and he gave up five goals. So that’s on the group, that’s on the staff, that’s on everybody.
“We’ve got to put as much pride into keeping pucks out of our net as we do scoring right now."