DALLAS — Brett Connolly celebrated his goal at center ice with his teammates, relishing another high in what had been an exhilarating game. Then he dropped, falling flat on the ice with his arms underneath him. He stayed still like that for several seconds, confounding several other Washington Capitals.
"I was a little tired," Connolly said with a shrug. "I don't know what was going on, but it was spur-of-the-moment. I think the boys had a good laugh over it."
Tuesday's game against the Dallas Stars was both exhausting and wildly entertaining. Connolly's goal tied it with less four minutes left in regulation, then the Capitals laughed and celebrated once against just 1:51 into overtime, when Andre Burakovsky's second goal of the night lifted Washington to a 4-3 win.
As the Capitals' miserable history playing in Dallas was recounted to Burakovsky on Tuesday morning, he laughed that he was less than a year old the last time the team won in regulation here. That streak lives on, but the 22-year-old was the hero at American Airlines Center with his three-point night, assisting on Connolly's equalizer before scoring the game-winner.
Braden Holtby made 33 saves and was able to celebrate a win over Dallas for the first time in his career.
"Obviously it was a gutsy win on our part," Holtby said. "It feels nice to win in this building finally and against that team."
Washington has just one regulation win in Dallas since the Stars moved to the city in 1993 — they won in overtime here last year, too — and Coach Barry Trotz commented before the game that this matchup always seems to produce "weird stuff." Tuesday's game unfolded accordingly.
Forward T.J. Oshie took a shot to his knee late in the third period, dropping to the ice with concerned teammates crowding around him. This was his first night back after he missed six games with a concussion, and he hobbled straight back to the locker room. Moments later, Alexander Radulov scored to put the Stars up 3-2 with 4:07 left in regulation, celebrating wildly at center ice. It was insult to injury, but the Capitals responded immediately.
Forty-one seconds later, Connolly scored to tie the game once again and proceeded with his own center-ice celebration, though a little less gracefully. Oshie returned to the game shortly after and played in overtime, where Burakovsky promptly ended it.
"I just felt really good in the morning skate this morning," Burakovsky said. "And in the warmup, I felt great, too. I just had a really good feeling going into this game. I like to play here; it's a good atmosphere and good fans. It's a fast-type of hockey — that's what I like. There was a lot of up-and-down today, lot of skating."
After Gemel Smith scored on his own rebound to give the Stars a 2-1 lead in the second period, Washington defenseman Dmitry Orlov tied the game and ensured himself a place on the highlight reel. Dragging the puck between his legs, Orlov blew past Dallas's John Klingberg before beating goaltender Ben Bishop 13:12 into the period. That set up a tied third period in which the endless back-and-forth action was mesmerizing.
"Holy you-know-what," Trotz said of his reaction to Orlov's goal.
With Oshie back, the Capitals had a full, healthy lineup for just the second time this season and the first time in two months. Oshie acknowledged this was the fourth documented concussion of his career, and perhaps that's why his teammates were protective of him.
On just Oshie's second shift of the game, Stars forward Antoine Roussel shoved Oshie into the glass late and rookie Jakub Vrana took exception. Vrana and Roussel scrapped behind the net and both were assessed roughing minors, though Roussel got an extra one. Washington didn't capitalize on the power play, but 10:35 into the first period, Burakovsky finished a slick cross-ice backhand feed from Connolly on a three-on-two rush for his first goal of the game.
That marked Burakovsky's second goal of the season and the first since he returned to the lineup six games ago. A broken left thumb had caused him to miss 20 games, and after so much time removed from game action, he initially struggled to regain his scoring touch. For a player Washington expected more production from this season, his fourth in the NHL, Tuesday's performance was an encouraging sign.
"It was nice to see Burky back on the goal-scoring sort of chart," Trotz said. "I'd say he was probably pressing a little bit the last couple games, so it was good to get him a couple. I thought we just got contributions from the whole lineup, which was good."
Less than five minutes after Burakovsky gave the Capitals a 1-0 lead, the chippy antics with Roussel entered their second act. He and forward Tom Wilson grappled with each other immediately after a faceoff, and though Roussel initiated, Wilson dropped him to the ice, continuing to throw punches when Roussel was down. This time, Wilson received the extra roughing minor, and two seconds into the Stars' power play, Dallas captain Jamie Benn tipped a Klingberg point shot to tie the game.
That was just the beginning of an entertaining night.
"I thought it was a great comeback," Connolly said. "I thought we played pretty well tonight and deserved to win."