UNIONDALE, N.Y. — From the top of the lineup down Saturday night, the Washington Capitals played the disciplined and grinding game Coach Adam Oates so often stresses. But doing all the right things almost wasn’t enough to capture a win, and it took a late-game comeback to ensure the results matched the preceding effort.
Washington fell behind with 1 minute 51 seconds remaining in regulation, but what transpired afterward showed a team determined not to accept anything less than two points. The Capitals staged a dramatic rally, forcing overtime, where Alex Ovechkin scored the game-winner to secure a 3-2 victory over the New York Islanders at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum.
“It was an exciting win because we played a great hockey game. They did, too. It was a great game to be in,” said goaltender Braden Holtby, who finished with 37 saves. “It was one of those wins that it took everyone in this dressing room to win it, and we pulled it out.”
This was a game ruled by hard work with battles in the greasy areas along the boards or for territory in front of the net. It may have been precisely the type of game the Capitals needed, one that required them to build on the good habits that helped them snap a four-game losing streak a night earlier against Montreal — traits like establishing a strong forecheck and providing support to help win possession battles throughout the game.
After a strong but scoreless first period, the Capitals took a 1-0 lead a little less than nine minutes into the second period when Aaron Volpatti scored on a solid shift from the fourth line, whose no-frills and gritty style was well-suited for this type of game.
Martin Erat, back in the lineup for the first time since he went public with his trade demand on Monday, started the play when he fought for control of the puck behind the net and then swept out low along the goal line before firing a pass across the crease to Tom Wilson. The rookie took two shots before the rebound bounced out in front. Then Volpatti swatted the puck past Islanders netminder Anders Nilsson, who recorded 27 saves in his first start since March 10, 2012.
But the Capitals couldn’t build on their advantage, and a power play early in the third period proved anything but beneficial. Washington’s man advantage has struggled recently, going four for its past 32, and on this occasion it allowed Cal Clutterbuck to score a shorthanded goal on a breakaway that knotted the game at 1 less than four minutes into the third.
The contest appeared headed toward overtime when Thomas Vanek found a loose puck in front and fired to give the Islanders a 2-1 lead on a questionable play with less than two minutes to play in regulation. Earlier in the sequence, Holtby appeared to cover the puck twice, but the play was never whistled dead.
“One hundred percent he covers the puck, and you can see his reaction out there. I saw he covered the puck two times,” said Ovechkin, who was part of the scramble in the crease. John Tavares or somebody else make a hit on the glove, and the puck go through my skates and it goes in. Nothing you can do with that . . . but we recover and bounce back.”
Vanek’s goal and the apparent lack of a whistle left Holtby frustrated and the Capitals suddenly staring at a potential loss in one of their best all-around games of the season. Yet the disappointing goal didn’t faze Washington much, perhaps because with so little time remaining they couldn’t afford to feel sorry for themselves.
“It happened so late we didn’t have time, we didn’t have the time to think about it,” Oates said. “We had to get a goal real quick.”
But first Mike Green would take an interference penalty against Michael Grabner to prevent what likely would have been another Islanders goal with 70 seconds to go. The Capitals didn’t just kill the penalty but challenged to tie the contest and pushed the play to the New York end.
Karl Alzner kept the play alive in the zone and sent a pass down low to Jason Chimera, who made a pretty pass out in front to a surprisingly open Nicklas Backstrom. Washington’s top center fired a wrister that tied the game at 2 with 49 seconds to go in the third.
Washington killed the remaining time on Green’s penalty in overtime and continued to push forward. When Ovechkin saw Mikhail Grabovski carry the puck up ice just as the Islanders forwards went off for a change, the star right wing made the corresponding play to receive a drop pass and go to the opposite side from his teammate. With one snap of his wrists, Ovechkin secured Washington’s win.
“I think we deserved at least a point,” Backstrom said. “I think it’s good that we came back. It’s always something strong when you can come back like that.”
Capitals notes: Brooks Laich missed a second straight game with a lower-body injury. . . .
Washington recalled defenseman Dmitry Orlov, who made his season debut Saturday night, and goaltender Philipp Grubauer to serve as Holtby’s backup with Michal Neuvirth out with an injured right leg. . . .
Center Michael Latta was reassigned to the American Hockey League’s Hershey Bears.