The moment the puck went bounding over New Jersey defenseman Sheldon Souray's stick at the Washington Capitals' blue line with 33 seconds left in overtime, Washington's entire bench rose in unison. Capitals captain Adam Oates was already heading up ice, sensing the opportunity.
He scooped up the puck at center ice and raced down untouched. When goaltender Chris Terreri flinched, dropping down, Oates flipped it over Terreri's arm with 22.6 seconds left tonight, giving the Capitals a 3-2, come-from-behind victory and ending the first half of the season with their biggest win.
"As soon as I saw him go to his backhand I took off, hoping for a bad bounce," said Oates, whose two overtime goals this season ties the NHL lead.
With the win--and two points--Washington (17-17-7) moved to .500 for the first time since Nov. 27. The Capitals won three games in a row for the first time this season, as well as consecutive road games. With Buffalo and Carolina losing, they leapfrogged into the seventh playoff spot and are just two points out of the sixth spot. Even more impressive, they beat one of the premier teams in the NHL--the Devils entered the game with a nine-game unbeaten streak and a 17-3-2 home record. They also were 15-2 in one-goal games and 14-0-2 when leading after two periods (that's 14-1-2 now).
"It's a great feeling," Oates said. "We got a huge win, we beat a great hockey team, we came from behind."
Washington entered the third period down 2-1 and tied the score with some help from Coach Ron Wilson. He made a subtle move midway through the period, dropping Ulf Dahlen to the fourth line, elevating second-line winger Steve Konowalchuk to Dahlen's spot and moving fourth-line center Andrei Nikolishin to the second line.
Konowalchuk scored the game-tying goal on his first shift with Adam Oates and Chris Simon. The goal was Konowalchuk's first in 12 games. Defenseman Ken Klee corralled the puck in the slot and sent it toward the goal. Simon was stuffed, but Konowalchuk reached for the rebound and slipped it inside the far post nearly 11 minutes into the third period.
"I didn't think things were happening enough with Oates's line," Wilson said. "They needed a step faster and Konowalchuk provides that and it worked. It paid off."
The Capitals recovered from a sluggish start and peaked when it counted.
Goaltender Olaf Kolzig, who had 27 saves in his season-high 10th straight appearance, was the difference early. The Devils had at least seven quality chances in the first period; Washington might have had one. Kolzig was brilliant, never more so than early in the second period, with the Devils on the power play. He dove through traffic to stop two quick shots off a scramble in the crease and jumped back into position to get a piece of rookie Scott Gomez's wrist shot. That was the impetus for the opening goal.
Joe Sacco blocked a shot at the point off the ensuing faceoff and made a great play along the boards to free Nikolishin, who beat two Devils and showed great patience in the crease. The center lulled Terreri to drop to the ice and beat him three minutes into the second period, which gave Nikolishin three goals in five games after just three in his first 36 contests.
The lead was short-lived. About eight minutes into the period, Bobby Holik capped a two-on-two, beating Kolzig with a routine wrist shot. Peter Sykora gave New Jersey the lead with 7 minutes 10 seconds left in the period, easily flipping the puck in after Capitals forward Richard Zednik accidentally had thrown Devils center Jason Arnott into Kolzig, knocking the goalie deep into the net.
Capitals Notes: Wilson coached his 205th game with the Capitals, fourth-most in franchise history. Wilson and his assistants are wearing lapel pins commemorating the Hockey Fights Cancer campaign given to them by referee Paul Stewart, who returned from his battle with cancer last season. . . . Winger Yogi Svejkovsky was scratched for the fifth time in six games. . . . Leading scorer Peter Bondra (sprained knee) continues to skate in Washington and hopes to play next week.
CAPTION: Devils' Sergei Brylin, right, can only watch the puck as Capitals' Olaf Kolzig makes a save. New Jersey's unbeaten streak ends at nine.
CAPTION: Devils' Chris Terreri, right, makes a save on a shot by Capitals' Mike Eagles, left, as Devils' Brian Rafalski looks on. Capitals have won three straight.