For the second time in as many preseason games, Caps coach Adam Oates found himself heading into the bottom of the fourth frame of a tied shootout – a potential sudden death game-winning situation – in a 3-3 hockey game.
On Saturday night in Belleville, Ont., Oates looked down his bench and tabbed the No. 52 car, Mike Green. Green scored a bar-down goal to enable the Caps to get out of town with a 4-3 shootout win over the Winnipeg Jets.
On Monday night in Philadelphia, Oates looked down his bench again. He had already deployed Jason Chimera, Eric Fehr and Andre Burakovsky in the skills competition. No. 52 was back home in Washington along with No. 8 (Alex Ovechkin), and No. 19 (Nicklas Backstrom).
Car 54, where are you?
Oates spotted No. 54, Joel Rechlicz, perhaps the least likely of the 18 skaters to be chosen to bat in the cleanup spot. The 26-year-old Milwaukee native has three career goals in 260 professional games, and none in 26 NHL contests.
We’ll let Oates take it from here.
“I go, ‘You any good at breakaways?’
“He goes, ‘Oh, yeah,’”
“I go, ‘Well, you’re up.’”
Rechlicz went to center ice skated in calmly, went to his backhand and made like Joe Sakic, deftly roofing a backhander high and tight over the right shoulder of Flyers goalie Ray Emery.
Caps win, 4-3.
Afterwards, Rechlicz made like it was just another ho-him day at the office.
“He didn’t even bat an eye,” noted Oates. “It was like he expected it. Even after he scored, it was like ‘No big deal.’ Or shock, I’m not sure.”
The Caps’ bench erupted, everyone thrilled for the brief moment of glory for one of those organizational foot soldiers that are a revered part of hockey’s fabric.
“I just got lucky,” explained a somewhat incredulous Rechlicz. “I had a little confidence. It was awesome.”
For virtually all of his pro career, Rechlicz has used a wooden stick. Recently, Oates convinced him to change it up.
“I don’t think I could have pulled that off with a wood stick,” said Rechlicz. “I just got lucky there.”
What did coach say to you before you went out there?
“We were just on the bench there and he said, ‘You’re up.’ I was kind of in shock for a second there.”
Did you have a plan?
“I was thinking that move the entire time before I did it. I just got lucky.”
Rechlicz’s heroics followed a somewhat strange final 21 minutes of regulation for the Capitals. Washington took a 2-0 lead on a power play goal from John Carlson and an even-strength strike from Joel Ward, both in the second period.
A defensive lapse in the final minute of the second period left Flyers winger Jakub Voracek all alone in front of Washington netminder David Leggio, and Voracek converted a strong feed out of the left wing corner from Jason Akeson to make it a 2-1 game with 45 seconds left in the second.
The Caps went shorthanded early in the third on an Eric Fehr hi-sticking minor, and Philly’s Vincent Lecavalier scored on the ensuing power play in his first game in front of his new fans. Once again, Washington was guilty of a defenseman lapse that left Lecavalier isolated for a weak-side one-timer that made it 2-2.
Washington struggled on face-offs in the final frame, took four minor penalties in the third, waited until just past the 16:30 mark of the third to get its first shot on goal of the stanza and had no territorial or possession momentum to speak of.
Akeson cashed in on a 2-on-1 at 6:09 of the third to give Philly its first lead of the night and it looked like the Flyers would be able to close it out in regulation.
Washington had seven shots on goal in the third period, all of them in the final 3:24. Left wing Ryan Stoa – the opposite-side winger on Rechlicz’s line in the game –scored an unassisted goal with 21.7 seconds remaining in regulation to enable the Caps to dodge defeat. Stoa had just hopped over the boards onto the ice when he was the benefactor of a Kimmo Timonen giveaway in the Philly end.
The Caps had two great chances in overtime. Mathieu Perreault rang a shot off the left pipe, and Fehr fed Carlson perfectly for a high-percentage shot from the slot, but the Caps’ defenseman just missed netting his second of the night.
Leggio kept the Caps close after Akeson's go-ahead goal, and he stopped all four shots he faced in the shootout. That set the stage for Rechlicz’s improbable finishing heroics.
“Obviously I had my first three guys,” explained Oates of his shootout lineup. “And I just thought about it. Obviously, [Rechlicz is] an unsung hero. All you ever hear about is he’s a great guy, he fights for his teammates all the time, sticks up for everybody all the time. And he did that a little bit in the second [period]. He was ready. I [told] him today, ‘I’m not looking for you to fight, I’m looking for you to play hockey.’ He was great about it. An exhibition game is an opportunity to do that and I talked to a couple of guys and they said, ‘Yeah, for sure.’
“We’re all glad he scored. But there’s not a lot of times that you get to thank a guy. We had faith in him.”
It wasn’t the prettiest game, but the Caps are happy with the win that runs their preseason mark to 2-0 heading into Tuesday night’s Baltimore Hockey Classic against the Boston Bruins.
Stoa, Leggio and Rechlicz are three guys almost certainly ticketed for AHL Hershey this season. The three Bears combined to snatch an almost certain victory from the Flyers on Monday.
“We grinded it out a little bit,” admitted Fehr. “We made some sloppy plays; we weren’t very strong in our own end and we relied on our goaltending to make some big saves for us. We’ve got to pick to up a little bit better. We’ve got to make better passes to each other, just make simpler plays and hopefully we can figure it out for the next game.”