Capital One Arena was silent as Alex Ovechkin unfurled his shot. The next sound was the puck clanging off the post and into the netting. Then, a wall of noise.
The Capitals overcame a two-goal deficit in the third period to force overtime, and Ovechkin's goal — blasted from the faceoff circle before ramping up off a defender's stick — 1:58 into the extra period lifted them to a 3-2 win over the Anaheim Ducks on Saturday night. The two standings points moved them into sole possession of the Metropolitan Division lead.
"That was fun," Coach Barry Trotz said.
Ovechkin's goal came at the end of a lengthy, 1:19 shift in three-on-three overtime, when he was trying to get a shot off before going for a line change. His 23rd goal tied him with Tampa Bay's Nikita Kucherov for the NHL lead.
"I'll take it," Ovechkin said.
Through the first two periods, Washington's top line had been especially snakebit, robbed by Ducks netminder John Gibson on several prime scoring opportunities and missing the net on others. With how much possession time that trio had, a goal seemed inevitable. It finally came 3:05 into the third period, when Nicklas Backstrom scored on the rebound of an Ovechkin shot, putting the Capitals on the board and halving the Ducks' lead to 2-1.
Since Backstrom snapped his 21-game goal drought, he has four goals in six games. And less than five minutes after Backstrom's goal, Evgeny Kuznetsov tied the score with his 11th goal, shooting the puck over Gibson's pad.
"We came out with a purpose in the third period," Capitals goaltender Braden Holtby said.
"We showed our character," Ovechkin said. "Everybody believes in this room we can come back. Obviously, we had great chances in the second, but we don't score. He played unbelievable today, Gibson."
The Capitals entered the game riding a five-game home winning streak, with this their last game at Capital One Arena before Christmas. The team hadn't trailed in Chinatown during December, something that changed in the first period.
On a two-on-one rush with less than four minutes until intermission, Anaheim fourth-line center Derek Grant shot a puck over Holtby's blocker to lift the Ducks to a 1-0 lead. Earlier in the period, Capitals forward Tom Wilson had a look at an open net, but his shot clanged off the post instead.
Gibson haunted the Capitals over the next 20 minutes. In the first minute of the second period, Alex Chiasson deked his way to the net, alone and in close, but Gibson fell into a split, saving the shot with his glove. Less than three minutes later, he did the same with a point-blank Wilson shot.
As good as Gibson was, the Capitals' play was largely disjointed. Their passes weren't crisp, and Washington managed just three shots on goal through more than 12 minutes in the second period.
Puck management had been poor, with too many turnovers. Several players complained about ice conditions after the arena hosted the Syracuse-Georgetown men's basketball game earlier in the day.
"Yeah, it was really bad," forward Devante Smith-Pelly said. "That might have played a part into the sloppiness throughout."
Andre Burakovsky was sent to the penalty box for hooking 7:31 into the second period. Right off the faceoff, with Holtby screened, Ryan Getzlaf's shot made its way through two bodies, and Jakob Silfverberg tipped the puck through the small hole between Holtby's skate and the post. That gave the Ducks a two-goal advantage.
It seemed as if a new Capitals team hit the ice for the third period, when Washington managed to erase its deficit in less than eight minutes.
"Even if we're down two goals, it felt like we had a good feeling," Backstrom said. "We felt like we created good enough chances to score."
Trotz told his players not to waver.
"I just said, 'Stay to the process. We get one, we're going to get the other one,' " he said. "We were creating way too much not to get more than one."