Coming off two tough losses on the road, games in which they let opportunities to gain control of a contest or assert themselves slip away, the Washington Capitals were determined not to experience a similar fate Tuesday night at Verizon Center.
So when, in the span of 5 minutes 23 seconds, they coughed up a one-goal lead in the third period and then the Columbus Blue Jackets pulled ahead, the Capitals fought back.
“That’s something that we’ve kind of struggled with at times before in the past where one goal really deflates us,” defenseman Karl Alzner said. “We got really angry on the bench when they took the lead there, and I think it showed out on the ice after that. So that’s something that needs to happen whenever they score a goal, whenever we’re up at any point in the game, we need to be angry at all times and play really, really hungry.”
It took some time for the contest to reach the back-and-forth pace that ultimately decided this Metropolitan Division game, though. The two teams played scoreless for more than 27 minutes, including an opening frame that featured nothing but five-on-five play in a test of Washington’s patience and willingness to play a simple game.
They withstood a few worrisome shifts when the third and second lines became hemmed in their own zone but couldn’t crack defending Vezina Trophy winner Sergei Bobrovski (30 saves) in the early stages when they created chances either.
“They play like that, they put five guys in front of the net and protect the goalie,” Ovechkin said. “It’s their system, we have to be patient and we was a little bit patient.”
Early in the second the Blue Jackets struck first with a shorthanded goal by Brandon Dubinsky. Troy Brouwer went to play the puck behind his own net but lost an edge, allowing Dubinsky to gain possession and then skate out in front, deke past Braden Holtby (24 saves) and put Columbus ahead 1-0 with 7:50 gone in the middle frame.
Washington responded in quick fashion when John Carlson scored his fourth goal in six games to knot the score at 1. It was a play made possible by a brilliant diving pass by veteran winger Martin Erat, who sent the puck across to the trailing defenseman just as Bobrovsky lunged out of his crease that allowed Carlson to fire into a yawning cage at 14 minutes of the second period.
Joel Ward gave the Capitals their first lead when he recorded a shorthanded tally to make it 2-1 at 8:56 of the third. Bobrovsky had gone behind his net to play the puck but opportunistic Ward picked off his pass and flung it back into the open cage before the netminder could get back into position. But the energy from that marker wouldn’t last.
For the 11th time this season, the Capitals allowed a goal in the first 2:30 after scoring one of their own. Jared Boll deflected a shot by James Wisniewski just 2:26 after Ward’s marker to pull the Blue Jackets even at 2 and less than three minutes after that they pulled ahead.
An outlet pass by Dubinsky bounced over Mike Green’s stick and sent speedy Columbus winger Cam Atkinson on a breakaway. Atkinson beat Holtby for a 3-2 lead and suddenly the Capitals were faced with the prospect of losing control of yet another winnable game.
“You’ve got to stay in it mentally. We just try to control what we can when we’re out there and execute. The main thing, we were still in the game,” said Ward, whose tally marked his ninth of the season more than he scored all last year. “We’re not down by five, six. It was only one goal. We knew we had time on the clock and you could feel it a little bit that we were kind of creeping back.”
It would be Grabovski along with linemates Ward and Jason Chimera and defensemen Green and Nate Schmidt who jumped on the Blue Jackets with an aggressive offensive zone shift as time ticked down in the third. They attempted three shots on goal before Grabovski scored on the fourth, a pop out after a blocked shot, to tie the score at 3 with 1:45 remaining in regulation and record the 100th goal of his career.
Grabovski’s energy resulted in a decision that would change the course of overtime as well as Oates opted to reward him by starting him with Nicklas Backstrom in the extra session. That put Ovechkin with Marcus Johansson, who made a savvy play to fight through a check and then skate in on net for a shot. Ovechkin was there waiting for the rebound and scored the game-winner on the doorstep just 1:34 into overtime.
“Jojo do great job fight through it and after,” Ovechkin said, “I have to go to the net, stay and find the rebound and I got lucky puck bounce right to my stick.”