“All that really matters at the end of the day is you get your two points,” winger Troy Brouwer said. “You know we’re not exactly happy with the way we got the two points, but we got them and that’s good enough right now.”
Washington (40-31-8) now holds 88 points, two ahead of the Buffalo Sabres — who lost their second straight game, 4-3 to Toronto — for the eighth and final playoff berth in the Eastern Conference. The Capitals also closed the gap on the Southeast Division-leading Florida Panthers to two points, but they’ve played one more game.
Early on the contest was all about welcoming Backstrom to game action after he missed 40 games with a concussion. In his first game since Jan. 3, Backstrom showed hardly any signs of rust early but admitted he began to tire as the game wore on. All told, Backstrom skated 19 minutes 40 seconds as part of the first line and recorded two shots on goal. He also won 12 of 18 faceoffs and finished as with minus-1 rating.
Even better for Backstrom was when he absorbed a big hit in the second period from Montreal’s Mike Blunden without any negative effects.
“It’s a relief, actually,” Backstrom said of being hit again by an opponent. “I’ve been thinking a lot about this game and if I’m ready or not. Couldn’t really sleep before the game. So it’s a little back and forth. But I tell you right now I made the right decision. I was happy to be back and I felt pretty good — even if I was a little rusty.”
The Capitals were boosted by Backstrom’s return, but it was Neuvirth who was superb. Neuvirth made 39 saves en route to his second straight victory, making a case to be the Capitals’ go-to netminder down the stretch now that veteran Tomas Vokoun is sidelined again with a strained groin muscle.
After the Capitals took a 2-0 lead just 16:10 into the first period, Neuvirth went on to face numerous quality chances from Montreal in the final 40 minutes of regulation and overtime. Washington was outshot, 32-21, after the first period, but Neuvirth rose to the occasion nearly each time his teammates turned over the puck or were beaten on a one-on-one play.
“Michal made big saves,” forward Brooks Laich said. “He came up really big on the penalty kill, especially in the third period. He’s battled in there and with Tomas out again, it’s Michal’s show. He did a great job coming in in Boston [Thursday], and he played great again tonight. It’s good that he’s finding his game.”
Washington dominated the opening 19 minutes of the contest. Mathieu Perreault scored on a pretty feed from Alexander Semin to make it 1-0 at 4:16, his third goal in four games this season against his hometown team.