Zach Sanford made his NHL debut with the Caps in Pittsburgh nearly four months ago, so he’s had plenty of time to think about what it might be like to score his first goal in the league.
On Saturday night at Verizon Center, he got to feel what it was like.
Sanford’s first NHL strike restored Washington’s lead at 5-4 late in the third period, and ultimately stands up as the game-winner in the Caps’ 6-4 win over the visiting Anaheim Ducks.
“That was a pretty cool first one,” says Sanford, “to get it at the end there. The reaction of all the guys on the bench and on the ice made it awesome. They were so happy for me. They knew I was waiting for it, and I finally did it. It was great.”
With the win, the Caps tied a 46-year-old NHL record, scoring five or more goals in 11 straight home games to match the mark established by the 1970-71 Boston Bruins. The Caps also won their 12
th straight home game – matching the second longest streak of its kind in Caps’ history – and their sixth straight game overall.
“It was a good way to get it done,” says Caps coach Barry Trotz. “We played a very good team today.
“It’s a real big day for Zach Sanford, getting his first [goal]. I thought we were real resilient at the end. Good win, and a good break coming up.”
Sanford’s first NHL goal righted the Caps’ ship after they uncharacteristically frittered away a two-goal lead in the third period – and a three-goal lead overall – against the Ducks.
“We showed a lot of character hanging in there and playing with a team like that and making that comeback,” says Ducks captain Ryan Getzlaf. “That’s not an easy team to do that against, and not an easy building to be in.”
Washington was in the midst of killing off an Alex Ovechkin slashing minor when Ducks winger Corey Perry unwisely took down Daniel Winnik in the offensive zone, ending the Ducks’ power play and setting off a skirmish between Winnik and his ex-teammate. They each got two for roughing, but Perry got the extra minor for the trip.
After 15 seconds worth of four-on-four play, the Caps went to the power play and used the man advantage opportunity to take an early lead. T.J. Oshie scored from the diamond, recording his 400
th NHL point in the process. With the secondary assist on the Oshie strike, Nicklas Backstrom notched the 700
th point of his NHL career. The goal came at 6:45 of the first, putting the Caps up top 1-0.
Ducks goaltender John Gibson made some good saves in the first, but he frequently scattered loose change around the front of the net in doing so. Washington doubled its lead on one of those instances, roughly eight minutes after Oshie’s goal.
After an offensive zone draw, Oshie won the puck in the right wing corner, nudging it to Backstrom behind the Anaheim net. Backstrom fed Ovechkin in front, and Gibson stopped the Caps’ captain’s shot. But Backstrom was able to pot the rebound into a yawning cage, making it 2-0 at 14:35.
Washington’s fourth line was a handful from the start, and they chipped in to make it a 3-0 game late in the first. WInnik made a perfect cross-crease feed to Tom Wilson, who promptly buried a one-timer from the lower half of the left circle at 17:48.
Anaheim cut into the Caps’ lead in the first half of the middle frame, getting a Jakob Silfverberg rush goal at 7:16. Silfverberg’s shot from the right wing half wall beat Caps goalie Braden Holtby to the far side to make it a 3-1 game.
Just over three minutes later, Caps defenseman Matt Niskanen was sent to the box for roughing, giving the Ducks a chance to tighten the game on the power play. But instead, the Caps restored their three-goal lead with their fifth shorthanded strike of the season.
Winnik captured a loose puck high in the Washington zone and rolled it ahead into Anaheim ice. He easily split the last two Ducks defenders, beat them to the puck and whipped it through Gibson for a 4-1 Washington lead at 12:18.
The Ducks climbed back to within two late in the frame when Hampus Lindholm beat Holtby with a top shelf shot from in tight, doing so on a third opportunity. The Caps issued a video challenge, alleging the Ducks were offside on the play, but the goal was upheld after a lengthy review. The Lindholm tally made it a 4-2 game with 2:24 left in the second.
Near the midpoint of the third, Anaheim struck to pull within a goal. After the Caps weren’t quite able to exit their zone, turning it over just inside the line, Ryan Kesler slipped a shot from the slot past Holtby to make it a 4-3 game at 9:38.
Just over two minutes later, Anaheim came all the way back and squared the game. Seconds after the Ducks won a draw in their own end, Cam Fowler sprung Getzlaf on a breakaway with a perfect stretch pass. Getzlaf stutter-stepped and beat Holtby to tie the tilt at 4-4 with 8:12 left in regulation.
The Caps managed to re-seize momentum – no easy task after giving up three-straight goals and losing a two-goal lead in the third – but Washington was buzzing the Anaheim net all night and it just kept doing so after Getzlaf’s tying tally.
Brett Connolly nearly slipped a shot past Gibson with just under five minutes left, but the Ducks goalie made a strong stop. It was Connolly who set Sanford up on that trio’s very next shift, feeding the rookie in the slot. Sanford’s shot glanced off Gibson and wobbled over the line to make it a 5-4 game with just 2:39 remaining.
Marcus Johansson netted his 19
th goal of the season in the waning seconds to account for the 6-4 final.
“We gave them so many gifts in the first period,” laments Ducks coach Randy Carlyle. “It was like we were standing around watching the game and they were playing the game for that period. Then we climbed back into it. The difference ended up being special teams in the end. They scored a shorthanded goal and a power-play goal, and that was the difference in the hockey game.”
With this one in the books, the Caps can now enjoy their five-day bye week with their twin winning streaks intact, and not have to rue letting the last game before the break slip away.
“You’re sitting there 4-1 halfway through the game, and I’m sure some of us were having images of ‘We’re going to be on a beach in 24 hours.’ Maybe that’s why it slipped away; I don’t know. But we did a great job after they tied it up to get the momentum back.”