LOS ANGELES – As the Capitals pushed for a goal in the third period Thursday night, generating numerous quality scoring chances, it was hard not to wonder if they would ever find a way past Kings netminder Jonathan Quick.
Finally, with more than 52 minutes gone at Staples Center, their ability to match Los Angeles’s grinding style allowed them to break through.
From down low in the corner Nicklas Backstrom passed to Evgeny Kuznetsov at the top of the offensive zone. Kuznetsov curled down the right wing boards, started to make his way around the net but paused at the right post and sent a pass out in front to Joel Ward. It was a dazzling play by the rookie, who caught Los Angeles off guard with the reversal. Ward didn’t get a shot off cleanly when the puck first arrived but fought off Kings defenseman Drew Doughty to corral it long enough to lift a shot above Quick and into the net.
Ward’s goal, his 22nd of the year, pulled Washington even at 12:24 of the third period and ensured the visitors would capture at least one point before succumbing, 2-1, to the Kings in a shootout.
“I kind of had a feeling it was coming and I just tried to gain some separation with the D-man in front,” said Ward, who has scored a goal in each of the last four contests. “I just kind of had a quick hunch that he was going to slip one over and I tried to take a whack at it. … I was battling with the D-man there and just kind of kicked it up from my skate to my stick — I tried to scoop it in.”
As disappointed as the mood in the dressing room was postgame, that point was valuable for the Capitals and the way they continued to force the issue – making smart plays, not unnecessarily risky ones – was encouraging in itself as well.
More to come Friday from San Jose.
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