Adam Oates's mother, Loretta, and sister, Laurel, were at MCI Center Monday night for ceremonies honoring the Washington Capitals' captain for playing his 1,000th game. After sitting through the 2-2 tie with Chicago, Loretta Oates proclaimed to owner Jon Ledecky that she had decided to stick around for another game to watch her son score the game-winner.
Oates rewarded his mother's foresight with 27.4 seconds left in overtime last night, flipping a puck above goalie Jean-Sebastien Aubin and into the net, giving the Capitals a huge 3-2 victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins before 17,530 spectators, their largest crowd this season. Washington snapped a four-game winless streak, knocked off a streaking conference foe (7-3 under new coach Herb Brooks) and improved to 8-4-4 on home ice, with points in 12 of their last 13 games here.
"I think she has that prediction every game," said Oates, who has 22 points in his past 22 games. "Once in a while you have to get lucky. . . . We need points, we're not in the playoffs right now so we've got to get them. It's a big point for us."
The game-winning goal began on a busted play. Oates broke his stick after winning a faceoff, and by the time he grabbed a new one from the bench and circled up ice, the puck was catching up to him. ("That probably did give me a second to get back into position," he said.)
Defenseman Joe Reekie triggered the rush deep in Washington's zone and Steve Konowalchuk lugged the puck up ice. He beat Jaromir Jagr and threaded the puck across the crease to Oates, who lifted his second backhanded shot above the sprawled goalie. His family, visiting from Toronto, celebrated wildly in the owner's luxury box; Oates turned and shot them a smile as his teammates mobbed him.
Up until that scramble it appeared as if the Capitals would have to settle for a tie, due almost entirely to Aubin's heroics. He was brilliant, making 30 saves and several theatrical stops in the latter stages. Olie Kolzig (19 saves) shut down Tyler Wright and Jan Hrdina from close range, but his workload paled in comparison with Aubin's.
Capitals winger Joe Sacco was denied on a slapshot and a deflection. Peter Bondra had a breakaway, but Aubin, who handed Washington its first shutout of the season three weeks ago, stuffed his pads against the near post and Bondra dropped his stick and skated away in utter frustration. Calle Johansson and Richard Zednik took cracks at the net on the power play; Sacco and Chris Simon (points in five straight games) were denied twice each. In overtime Aubin snatched James Black's wicked shot with his glove and threw himself at Bondra's attempt from the low slot.
"He made some huge saves late in the game and especially in overtime," Capitals Coach Ron Wilson said. "He made at least four tremendous saves. You have to tip your hat to him."
Aubin actually got some rest in the first period: The Penguins had the better start and grabbed a quick lead. Hrdina sent a backhanded feed off of Oates and to the front of the net. Jagr, the most dominant player in the game, whipped a shot past Kolzig stick-side, giving the Penguins the 1-0 lead less than four minutes into the game.
Jagr gained his league-leading 28th goal and 59th point of the season--totals more than double that of any Capital. Each time he touched the ice through the first two periods, the Capitals' top defensive pair of Calle Johansson and Brendan Witt was there to greet him. They held him in check, as they did in the team's previous meeting, and Wilson used all six defensemen against the workhorse in the final 20 minutes, getting fresher legs on the ice. Brooks tried to spark his star by adding dangerous wingers such as Alexei Kovalev and Robert Lang to the line. Nothing changed.
"All you can really do against him is try to contain him and try to limit his chances," Witt said. "We're pretty pleased--it's a big challenge against that line."
The Capitals began to take the game over 10 minutes in and Dmitri Mironov scored on the power play early in the second period, tying it at 1. Black sprung Sacco for a breakaway 14 minutes into the period and the speedy winger broke a 17-game slump. Less than three minutes later, Ian Moran batted in a waist-high rebound, and the game was tied again, providing the perfect set-up for a familial celebration, making one particular fan feel at least a little bit prophetic.