When the Washington Capitals entered the first intermission of Friday night’s game against Toronto holding a lead on Dennis Wideman’s power-play goal, Brooks Laich told the defenseman not to stop at one. Wideman replied that he didn’t plan on it, and he made good on his word.
Wideman recorded the first four-point night of his career and what appeared to be his first-ever hat trick — although the 28-year-old defenseman insisted that the third goal should have been credited to Laich — to lead the Capitals to a 4-2 victory over the Maple Leafs at Verizon Center.
“The third one went off Brooksie, so I’m pretty sure that one’s going to come back,” Wideman said. “If you get one you want it to be honest. You don’t want a cheap one.”
The NHL will review the goal Saturday, but if it stands as Wideman’s tally it will mark the first hat trick by a Washington defenseman since Sergei Gonchar accomplished the feat on Jan. 4, 2000.
The victory came on the back of the power play, which accounted for all four of the Capitals’ goals, making Friday the first time that they’ve scored that many on the man-advantage since Dec. 5, 2009, which featured a four-point night by now-injured Mike Green.
The power play has not been a regular source of strength for Washington, which entered the game ranked 21st in the NHL (15.1 percent) and had snapped a five-game drought only the game before. But against the Maple Leafs, the Capitals went 4 for 6 on the power play fueled by Wideman patrolling the point.
“Dennis is a smart player, he knows when to pass, when to shoot,” Coach Dale Hunter said. “He was bang-on tonight with it. It’s all decisions [he has] to make, for a good power play where you’ve got to read the defense just like a quarterback does. He’s back there on top. He’s got to read it, what are they defending, what are they giving me. So he shot some, he passed some — great decisions by him.”
The run of success began in the first period with Toronto’s Jake Gardiner in the box for slashing Alexander Semin. Mike Knuble corralled the puck in front and passed to an unguarded Wideman in the right faceoff circle. Wideman wristed the puck past Maple Leafs goaltender James Reimer (21 saves) 12 minutes 33 seconds into the contest to snap his personal drought of 18 games without a goal.
Early in the second, Toronto was whistled for too many men on the ice and only 17 seconds into the power play, Wideman fired a blast from the point for his second tally. The shot went through a double screen of Knuble and Laich to make it 2-0 just 1:49 into the middle period.
“Dennis has a really good shot, we encourage him to use it,” said Laich, who declined to answer whether he deflected the final goal. “I think he thinks of himself as a playmaker first because he’s a really good passer, but as a penalty killer I know that when you shoot pucks from the top it’s really difficult to defend against.”
With the power play rolling, the Capitals’ collective confidence grew and even a goal by Phil Kessel that cut the lead to 2-1 less than 13 minutes into the second didn’t seem to rattle them.
The power-play unit received another opportunity when Toronto’s Colby Armstrong was called for high-sticking, and then an overlapping boarding penalty by Joey Crabb gave Washington a two-man advantage for 39 seconds. Wideman received a hard pass from Semin in the high slot, and with two goals already, it seemed everyone in the building believed the defenseman would shoot again.
As each Maple Leafs player turned his attention to him, though, Wideman passed backdoor to Nicklas Backstrom, who scored to make it 3-1 with 70 seconds remaining in the second.
Cody Franson scored on a deflection to make it a one-goal game again in the third, but the Capitals rounded out the special-teams rout with a fourth tally on their sixth power play. Wideman let go of a thunderous slap shot from the top of the left circle with Laich standing directly in front of Reimer. Whether Washington’s center touched the puck was unclear from the replays available immediately after the game.
“I think the goals that we got, we moved it around well. We moved it up top, we opened up some lanes. Then we had great screens in front [and] then we got our shots through,” said Wideman, who refused to believe he had a hat trick. “I’ve never had one before, still haven’t had one.”
Capitals notes: Defenseman Roman Hamrlik returned to the lineup after a four-game absence with what the team termed a lower body injury. . . .
Green missed a 14th consecutive game with a strained right groin muscle while Matt Hendricks sat out a second straight game with a knee injury. . . .
Defenseman Jeff Schultz was a healthy scratch.