With the final seconds of overtime ticking away, Washington Capitals defenseman Calle Johansson went hard to the Phoenix Coyotes' net. He knew there was not enough time left for the opposition to burn him at the other end. He figured maybe, just maybe, the puck somehow would find him.
Center Adam Oates sidestepped around three Coyotes to give Johansson a chance to head down the ice. Capitals defenseman Sergei Gonchar corralled the puck on the left boards and fired it off the chest of goaltender Sean Burke. The rebound plopped right to Johansson, who smacked it in with less than a second left. The crowd of 16,174 at MCI Center erupted, the Capitals' bench swarmed Johansson and the Capitals came away with a 3-2 win.
The Capitals (23-17-8) capped a 30-minute flurry with some of the best hockey they have played all season. They dominated the second half of the game and are undefeated in 10 games (9-0-1)--the longest streak in the NHL this season and third longest in franchise history (14 in a row, twice). They are undefeated in nine games at home (7-0-2) and have lost once since Christmas (11-1-3). They could not have done it in more spectacular fashion.
"I knew Gonchar was either going to pass it to me or shoot it," said Johansson, who along with teammate Ulf Dahlen was battling the flu. "There's always a chance the puck is going to get to you when you go to the net."
Johansson's second overtime goal this season capped another furious comeback. The Capitals trailed 2-1 after one period, looking out of sync into the second. They managed their fourth win of the season when trailing after two periods, to go along with three ties. They did it with a total reversal of play.
They started sluggishly. Whistles were constant. There was no flow to the game and, despite a solid effort, the Capitals could generate nothing. So Coach Ron Wilson began juggling his lines in the second period, looking for a spark. Left wings Terry Yake and Steve Konowalchuk swapped lines; Konowalchuk and Peter Bondra skated with three centers. Washington began to assault the net. Bondra was denied on a dash to net. James Black sent a beautiful leaping re-direction through his legs but wide. A goal seemed imminent.
"We were a little stagnant early," Wilson said. "I thought maybe if we shook up the lineup a little bit we'd add some energy."
It worked splendidly. The only line Wilson left alone--Dahlen, Richard Zednik and Jan Bulis, put the team back in the game. Dahlen put forth another tremendous effort, clinging to the puck behind the net where he is most dangerous. He went left, twirled away from defenseman Jyrki Lumme and darted right, gliding to the front of the crease, still buying time for a defenseman to pinch on the far side. When Gonchar did just that, Dahlen made a perfect pass for an easy tap-in with 3 minutes 40 seconds left in the second period. Dahlen "is back to the form he was in seven or eight years ago," Wilson said. "Not too many players are better than him behind the net."
Gonchar has 11 goals and 23 points in the last 18 games; Dahlen notched his 500th NHL point on the play; 16 of his 20 points have come in the last 19 games.
The Capitals returned to the dressing room for the second intermission a new team. "I think we played a little too conservative in the beginning," Johansson said. "Then we took over."
The Capitals opened the scoring almost despite themselves. Neither team could retain possession of the puck early, but rookie Jeff Halpern won a faceoff and deflected Gonchar's shot less then four minutes into the game. But Phoenix outworked the Capitals behind the net and Trevor Letowski connected with Travis Green to tie the game about 14 minutes in. Jeremy Roenick finished a breakaway 58 seconds later and Phoenix led, 2-1. Capitals goalie Olaf Kolzig was not tested again. He dropped his stick on occasion in the third period, his hands not generating even enough sweat to keep his leather glove moist. The game belonged to Washington. The final second proved it.