On January 5, the Washington Capitals overcame a two-goal deficit in the final minute of the third period to beat the San Jose Sharks in overtime. A comeback of this nature was the first in franchise history. 13 days later, the Caps one-upped themselves against the New York Islanders — one of the best shutdown teams in the third period — and former bench boss Barry Trotz.
The Capitals faced a 4-1 deficit after Devon Toews beat Braden Holtby wide open in front of the net with 2:35 left in the second period. The fourth-line forward then added insult to injury, flapping his arms and mocking Evgeny Kuznetsov with the bird celebration.
The complexion of the game changed after that.
“Everybody was kind of pissed off,” Alex Ovechkin said.
Head coach Todd Reirden grabbed backup goaltender Ilya Samsonov in the tunnel as the Capitals made their way to the dressing room for the second intermission. Reirden let the rookie Russian goaltender know that he’d replace Braden Holtby in the third period.
“I just felt like it was the right move at the time. That’s something we talked about as a staff and I felt comfortable doing it. I let [Ilya] know as soon as the second period was over that he would be going in,” Reirden said. “[We] made a change with some of our lines, some D pairs, and our goaltender, and said we’re not going to stop trying until this buzzer sounds. Let’s just focus on the next goal.”
Part of the motivation for the Capitals, according to Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin, was that the team had their bye week to look forward to as soon as the game was over.
“We knew it was only 20 minutes to work and then we’re gonna have a break,” Ovechkin said. “So we said to each other, put the puck deep, make a forecheck, and create some chances and you never know what gonna happen.”
Dmitry Orlov took this out of the team’s plan during the second intermission.
“I think we simplify game and try to just get puck in their zone and try to get hard on the forecheck,” Orlov said. ‘As soon as we get the puck, we tried to get a couple guys at net, get it there, some good things happen.”
“There was not going to be any quit from our team,” Reirden added.
Two minutes and 33 seconds into the third period, the Capitals found some hope with the third line. Nick Jensen ripped a shot from the point. The shot was broken up in front of the net as Richard Panik tried to screen Semyon Varlamov. But…he found the puck in his skates! Panik then curled and sent a pass to Carl Hagelin who was crashing the crease. Hagelin beat his man to the net and chipped the biscuit home.
“Haggy goal was huge and give us a little momentum and we used it,” Ovechkin said.
Two minutes and 45 seconds later, Ovechkin had a brilliant individual play. Putting the puck through Scott Mayfield’s skates, Ovechkin dove to send a centering pass. The puck bounced off an Islanders player into the net. It sent the Capitals into a huge celebration.
The Capitals had 14:42 left to tie the game.
The Capitals would tilt the ice and take it to the Islanders until the dam finally broke with 5:28 remaining. With the Capitals’ first line on the ice, Dmitry Orlov skated the puck to the top of the circle and ripped a shot on net. Tom Wilson, screening in front, redirected the puck home for his 14th goal of the season.
Despite the score being tied, the Islanders looked defeated.
“I have to say you have to respect [Ovi’s] whole line,” Vrana said. “Guys winning battles. Tom’s winning battles giving him the puck. Backy’s the same.”
Two minutes and 58 seconds later, the Capitals took the lead and would never look back. After TJ Oshie turned the puck over along the boards, Jakub Vrana picked off a clear from Josh Bailey. The Czech forward skated the puck to the net and ripped a shot past Semyon Varlamov.
“I just kind of skated on the boards and I don’t think the guy know that I’m there,” Vrana said. “I think he miss the pass and it land on my stick. I saw the other D try to get out of the zone. I didn’t think he expect that there was no one there. He was standing still so I just tried to shoot it and it hit the spot and it went in. I was pretty pumped about that.”
Ovechkin would add an empty-net goal with 56 seconds left to complete the hat trick – his second in consecutive games.
“[A] good thing about this group of guys, we never give up,” Ovechkin said. “It doesn’t matter what the score is. We don’t want to be out there just for play for the end of the game.”
“I’ve said this before, we have a really strong group here,” Vrana said. “We believe in each other. As you guys know, even we down three goals we kept pushing. Lots of people maybe think the game is over, but we stick with that.”
“[Samsonov] makes seven saves and looked under control,” Reirden said. “(I put him in), [j]ust to change the momentum. Sometimes when you have to do something like that, it sends a message to the room that we’re not done here. And unfortunately, it had to work out that way for Braden tonight.”
“I can’t say enough about our leadership in our room,” Reirden said. “The guys’ battle level, compete to the very end and gave ourselves a chance and obviously a phenomenal win for us.
The Capitals will now have eight days off before suiting up against the Montreal Canadiens on Monday, January 27. The Caps are the top team in the NHL with 71 standings points.
“We’ll take the win and enjoy our break now,” Reirden said.
Headline photo: NBC Sports Washington
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