With 62 seconds remaining in regulation on Tuesday night, the Washington Capitals pulled their goaltender for one last gasp to try to force overtime against the Anaheim Ducks and prevent a third consecutive defeat.
Instead of Alex Ovechkin and the full complement of offensive firepower, though, Coach Bruce Boudreau used his third line of Brooks Laich, Jason Chimera and Joel Ward, and Nicklas Backstrom as the forwards of the six players on the ice, and it proved to be the right move for the Capitals. Backstrom scored the tying goal with 42 seconds left to force overtime then added the game-winner 2 minutes 18 seconds into extra time to clinch a 5-4 win at Verizon Center that snapped Washington’s two-game losing skid.
“It was a weird game,” said Backstrom, who recorded his first multi-goal game of the season and leads Washington with 14 points. “The first half of the game didn’t feel as emotional, but second half the game we did better. Brooksie, Wardo, Chimmer got us in the game again they did a great job tonight. I think overall it’s a little shocking that we won I think but big points for us.”
Backstrom’s pair of goals marked the completion of Washington’s rally after spotting the Ducks, who have lost three straight, a 3-0 lead. Despite the come-from-behind victory, though, the Capitals outshot Anaheim, 40-15, and with all but nine of their shots on all-star netminder Jonas Hiller (35 saves) coming after the first period.
In addition to Backstrom’s clutch showing, Ward, Dennis Wideman and Troy Brouwer each recorded goals for the Capitals. The third line of Ward, Laich and Chimera finished with seven points and was a collective plus-9. It wasn’t the best night statistically for Tomas Vokoun, who made 11 saves in his start, but the goaltender was also victimized by several defensive lapses that allowed Anaheim’s dangerous second line to rack up a trio of early goals.
It was Anaheim’s second line of aging yet still sharp superstars Teemu Selanne and Saku Koivu, and young speedster Andrew Cogliano, that did the most of the damage against the Capitals, accounting for three of the Ducks’ four goals.
Washington seemed lost in its own end early on, giving the puck away and allowing the Ducks to slip through to open ice unnoticed. Koivu’s goal, which gave Anaheim a 1-0 lead shortly after nine minutes elapsed, was the eventual result of a turnover by Wideman behind the net to Selanne.
Less than four minutes later, another defensive mistake made it 2-0 Ducks, this time with Selanne scoring and Koivu setting the table. Roman Hamrlik got turned around on the play and Koivu managed to send a feed from below the goal line through Wideman’s legs, as the defenseman stood at the top of the crease, to a wide-open Selanne.
“It’s really difficult to keep up the pace that they kept up in the first 30 minutes,” Boudreau said of the Ducks. “They were like ‘Whoa, are they fast’ but we just stayed close enough.”
Selanne’s second goal of the night put Anaheim up 3-0 at 8:59 of the second period on just 10 shots but slowly, the Capitals started to chip away as they rolled through four lines to their opponents’ three.
On Washington’s 18th shot of the game it ended Hiller’s shutout bid. Ward had pulled the puck wide to the right and shot five-hole on Hiller through traffic to finally put the Capitals on the scoreboard and give them some momentum. It was the first of three goals while the third line was on the ice.
“I think that’s what we’re counted upon [for] is to give some energy, try to relieve some of the pressure off the bigger guys up front,” Ward said. “Just working hard and try to create space. If we can do that and wear teams down slowly, we know it’s a long game. So if we can do that, opportunities will be created for everybody.”
A blast from the point by Wideman on a fluky play that started with a long outlet pass by Vokoun, who caught the Ducks on a change, brought the Capitals to 3-2 with less than four minutes left in the second period. In the third, the teams exchanged goals by Corey Perry and Brouwer, making it 4-3 heading into the final minute of play.
That’s when Boudreau pulled Vokoun in favor of an extra attacker and rewarded Backstrom and the third line for their strong play up to that point.
“I think it’s a nice reward for our hard work for whatever reason things were clicking for our line tonight,” Laich said. “But I didn’t think the last two games Edmonton and Vancouver that we played particularly well. We wanted to rebound, have a better night tonight, you’re rewarded an opportunity like that you want to make the most of it. You throw in Nicky with us, we get a little bit lucky and get a goal.”
Capitals note: Brouwer didn’t play the final 2:16 of regulation or appear in overtime after being hit by Anaheim’s Toni Lydman and suffering what appeared to be a right shoulder injury. Brouwer underwent offseason surgery to repair his right shoulder this past summer.