Forty minutes into Thursday night’s game against the Winnipeg Jets, the Washington Capitals didn’t look like a team desperate for points before the NHL’s two-week Olympic break. But after being heavily outshot and facing a one-goal deficit heading into the third period, they came out with a no-frills approach and were rewarded for it.
The Capitals scored three times in the final 20 minutes to capture a 4-2 win at Verizon Center. The critical tying and decisive goals came from Tom Wilson and Alex Ovechkin — and each came from hard-working play and winning battles in front of the net.
“I don’t think we play well first two periods and [the third] was great example how we have to play all three periods,” said Ovechkin, whose tally was his 40th and stood as the game-winner. “Everybody move their legs, everybody finish their checks. If we make mistakes nobody yell, nobody was putting finger on this guy and if you make mistakes different guy step up and cover it. It was a great period by us and we have to dictate it and play like that every game.”
Washington’s rally came after it jumped out to an initial lead on Troy Brouwer’s first goal of the game just 4 minutes 56 seconds in. After taking that advantage, though, the Capitals let Winnipeg back into the contest.
Martin Erat, who has yet to score a goal of his own in 50 games this season, accidentally knocked a rebound past Braden Holtby gifting the Jets a tying tally that would be credited to Bryan Little before the first period came to a close. Then early in the second period, Washington lost track of 6-foot-5, 265 pound Dustin Byfuglien as he joined a rush.
The hulking defenseman wristed a shot over Holtby’s left shoulder to give the Jets, winners of nine of their past 11 entering the contest, a 2-1 lead at 5:41. Winnipeg controlled the rest of the middle frame, outshooting the Capitals, 16-7, in the frame and 30-18 through the first 40 minutes. If Washington was going to get anything out of this game, things needed to change quickly.
“We came in [the locker room] after the second period, we were extremely unhappy with the way we were playing, the way we were giving up chances, our execution, it was just poor all around,” said Brouwer, who recorded his first multigoal game since April 20. “So we came out, we started winning battles as a result, we were holding the puck a little bit more, creating some more opportunities.”
Brouillette, making his NHL debut at age 27 after playing for eight teams in two minor leagues over seven seasons, shot the puck off the end boards and it caromed out in front of the Jets’ goal. Rookie winger Wilson found the loose puck and deposited it into the yawning net while goaltender Ondrej Pavelec (26 saves) was scrambling in the crease, making it 2-2 just 3:38 into the third.
It was Wilson’s second career goal but it marked the first NHL points for Brouillette and Wey, who had the primary and secondary assists, respectively. Receiving such an important contribution from players not necessarily expected to etch their names on the scoresheet was just what the Capitals needed.
“The play [Brouillette] made, banking it off the boards perfectly like that was a great play, great play and obviously it worked, the bounce was right, popped in the right spot,” Coach Adam Oates said. “It was a great play, gave us a lot of life actually.”
Then the Capitals’ top line followed a simple but effective recipe to push the home team ahead once more.
Karl Alzner put a shot on net as Nicklas Backstrom jockeyed for position in front. Jets defenseman Tobias Enstrom sent Backstrom tumbling into Pavelec and with the netminder preoccupied, Ovechkin was able to snatch the rebound and fire the puck in at a steep angle to make it 3-2. The goal marked the sixth time Ovechkin has hit the 40-goal plateau in his career, but the first time since the 2009-10 season.
Brouwer added his second goal of the night on a two-on-two rush with 4:45 remaining in regulation to offer some security as the Capitals carried their lead the distance. On this night, though, it was the gritty goals that made the difference.
“You look at the goals that we got it was — aside from Brouwer’s last one there — they were goals that you go to the dirty areas for, that you deserve as a team,” Holtby said. “It’s not always easiest to go there and find the puck in those areas and we did that and it ultimately got us the game.”
Capitals notes: Mike Green missed a fourth consecutive game with a concussion. . . . Aaron Volpatti was placed on long-term injured reserve with an undisclosed upper-body injury that is believed to be a left arm or shoulder problem.