Capitals 5, Maple Leafs 4
Special-teams play had been the Washington Capitals' biggest deficiency, with the power play ranked last among 30 NHL teams and the penalty kill better than only four other teams. There was little reason to believe either unit would get well against the talented and experienced Toronto Maple Leafs.
But that's what happened yesterday at MCI Center, where rookie Alex Ovechkin scored two of the Capitals' three power-play goals, and his team snuffed a couple of Maple Leafs' advantages in the final minutes to earn a surprising 5-4 victory in front of 12,859.
"Special teams was the difference tonight," Capitals goaltender Olie Kolzig said. "Penalty killing was unbelievable, even though we gave up that five-on-three goal. Other than that, we were terrific."
It was a breakout night for reasons other than the special teams, too. The five goals were the most for the Capitals (6-8-0) this season and gave them their first two-game winning streak. They outshot an opponent for just the second time, 33-30. Ovechkin's performance (his fourth two-goal game) gave him 15 points, the most for a Capitals rookie since Jeff Halpern scored 29 in 1999-00.
"It was tough," Ovechkin said. "In the first period, we played well. In the second period, we had lots of penalties and Toronto tied the score. But in the third period, we had a good power play and we won the game."
Defenseman Bryan Muir's power-play goal in the first period was his first ever, and the Capitals' first during a five-on-four advantage since Oct. 8. It gave them a 1-0 lead. The power-play unit had one goal in its previous 43 chances.
Ovechkin's first power-play goal restored the Capitals' lead to 4-3 late in the second period. His second tally came about six minutes into the third period and put the Capitals ahead 5-3.
Ultimately, it proved to be the game-winner. But, for a while, it looked like it might not be enough.
Toronto's Kyle Wellwood scored 12 minutes 56 seconds into the third period to trim the Capitals' lead to 5-4. Then they had to kill off a power play and thwart a five-on-four advantage in the closing 26 seconds after the Maple Leafs replaced goaltender Mikael Tellqvist with an extra skater.
And the Capitals did, thanks to Kolzig, who was rock-solid again. Toronto's second-ranked power play went 1 for 7.
"Obviously they were a little tired and a little flat," Kolzig said of Toronto, which defeated Tampa Bay at home Saturday night. "We took advantage of the situation."
The Capitals again were hampered by injuries. Defenseman Jamie Heward (strained muscle) joined the list of sidelined players, which includes right wing Petr Sykora (back spasms), defenseman Nolan Yonkman (hip pointer) and center Dainius Zubrus (groin muscle strain). Also out was Andrew Cassels, who was a healthy scratch for the second consecutive game.
Muir's goal put the Capitals ahead 1-0. Matt Pettinger's short-handed goal with about seven minutes remaining in the period gave the Capitals a 2-0 lead.
The Capitals, however, could not maintain control of the powerful Maple Leafs, who tied the score at 2 on goals by Bryan McCabe and Jeff O'Neill in the first period's final 1:47.
In the second period, Brian Willsie's beautiful, no-look backhander beat Tellqvist to give Washington a 3-2 lead at 1:31. But O'Neill and the Maple Leafs, once again, came right back, this time on a five-on-three power play. O'Neill redirected a cross ice pass from Mats Sundin to tie the game at 3.
Ovechkin's first goal staked the Caps to a 4-3 edge with five minutes remaining in the middle frame. The 20-year-old left wing took a slick pass from Halpern and then chipped the puck over Tellqvist. Ovechkin's second goal was a long slap shot that hit a Maple Leaf player's stick on the way in.
"I'm proud of the team's resilience to come back from the loss in Philly," Halpern said.