As it turns out, there was nothing wrong with the Capitals that a little home cooking couldn’t cure. Well, some home cooking and an Alex Ovechkin goal. Some home cooking and a vintage Nicklas Backstrom performance. Some home cooking and a strong outing from Braden Holtby in goal. Some home cooking and a good game on special teams. Some home cooking and a lead of more than one goal.
Whatever it was, the Caps’ rare four-game losing streak is history after Washington earned a 4-2 win over the visiting Minnesota Wild on Tuesday night.
Washington’s stars came out to play on Tuesday, and the Caps were able to take a three-goal lead into the third period, the first time this month they’ve had a lead of more than a single goal.
After playing three games in four nights in California, the Capitals spent Monday on an airplane while the Wild waited for them in the District. Yet the Caps showed no signs of lingering jet lag in Tuesday’s game.
“This was a tough turnaround for us,” says Caps coach Barry Trotz. “This is really four [games] in six [nights] with travel both ways. It almost was a little bit of a road game for us. I thought the guys responded really well, they had good focus. Our intensity and commitment in a lot of areas was really high.”
Backstrom had his seventh three-point night of the season and his third three-assist game of the season, reaching the 70-point plateau for the sixth time in his NHL career and the 50-assist milestone for the seventh time. Backstrom has now reached each of those milestones in each of the last four seasons.
“It was a lot better tonight from our side,” says Backstrom. “Our line was feeling a lot better tonight. We were moving the puck and we were using each other.”
Each team had a power play opportunity in the first, and the Caps’ extra man opportunity came just 20 seconds in when T.J. Oshie drew a tripping call on Wild defenseman Matt Dumba. Neither side was able to take advantage on the power play, and it seemed as though the two sides would play to a scoreless but entertaining and free flowing first.
But in the waning seconds of the frame the Caps were able to manufacture the game’s first goal, doing so on a bit of a broken play.
Backstrom carried into Minnesota ice and tried to feed Oshie down low near the goal line. The pass hit Oshie’s tape, but didn’t take, so Backstrom collected it himself and carried behind the Wild cage with the puck on his backhand. He floated a pass to the front for Alex Ovechkin, who was driving the net near the top of the paint, but that pass missed the mark also. Ovechkin partially fanned, but Nate Schmidt was right behind him in the high slot, and the Washington defenseman fired the puck past Minnesota netminder Devan Dubnyk to put the Caps on top with just 11.7 seconds remaining in the first period.
The second started much like the first, with the Caps getting another early power play courtesy of a Dumba minor, and the Wild getting a power play of its own in the sixth minute of the frame, as it had done in the first. Things began to veer after that as the officials handed out penalties as if they were Halloween candy.
Minnesota entered the game as the league’s second most disciplined team, but the Wild was guilty of four minors in the second period, including three over an eight-minute span. From a Minnesota standpoint, the most vexing of those was a hi-sticking call on Mikael Granlund at 12:51 of the middle frame, an offensive-zone penalty that aborted a Wild power play opportunity.
The Caps didn’t score on that power play, but they did so one second after it expired. Even better, it was Ovechkin who scored, netting his first goal in 11 games and his first five-on-five goal in 20 games, ending career-high droughts on both counts. Ovechkin pounded a shot from his left dot office through Dubnyk to give Washington its first multi-goal lead in the month of March at 14:52 of the second.
Washington had one more power play in the second after that, and the Caps made good to expand their lead to 3-0. After a regroup, Evgeny Kuznetsov took a feed from Backstrom and scored a pretty goal off the rush, sniping a shot to the far side at 17:08.
In the third, it was Washington’s turn to be on the business end of the officials’ whistles. But that was only after Dumba got his name on the scoresheet in the first minute of the period for the third time in as many frames, this time for reasons that pleased his coach. Taking a feed from Granlund behind the Washington net. Dumba made a move on Caps goalie Braden Holtby and then went top shelf with a backhander to make it a 3-1 game at 37 seconds of the third.
Less than two minutes later, the Caps started a penalty parade in which three players were sent to the box in a span of 139 seconds, leaving the Wild with a five-on-three power play for 49 seconds. Washington killed off the two-man disadvantage, but Minnesota’s Eric Staal scored seconds later to make it a 3-2 game with 15:23 remaining.
The Caps clung tightly to that one-goal lead for most of the third period, then took advantage of a sluggish Wild line change during a neutral zone regroup late in the third. Dmitry Orlov threaded a perfect feed to Jay Beagle to spring him into the Minnesota zone on an odd-man rush with Daniel Winnik. Beagle called his own number and beat Dubnyk to give Washington some needed breathing room with 5:41 remaining.
Minutes earlier, Beagle missed the Minnesota net altogether on a similar shorthanded bid.
“It was just a quick up from [Orlov],” recounts Beagle. “I shot high and over the bar on the first one, which is [breaking] a cardinal rule. You definitely don’t do that, especially on the PK, so I was not too happy with myself.
“I saw low glove as I was coming in, and Winnie was hollering for the puck and I’m like, ‘I’m not giving it to you, Winnie.’”
For Minnesota, Tuesday’s loss – its fifth in its last seven games – was a costly one. Chicago leaped over the Wild and into the top spot in the NHL’s Central Division, though Minnesota does hold a game in hand.
“The first two periods, I thought it was a heck of a hockey game,” says Trotz. “Both teams were skating and I think both teams were playing pretty well. There was a lot of intensity and all that.
“We sort of opened the door up first shift [of the third] and took a few unnecessary penalties. Good response by the group, hanging in there. We got it done.”