Julien Brouillette received what he had waited a lifetime for Thursday — a chance to play in the NHL. After seven years spent playing on eight teams in two minor leagues, the Quebec native made his NHL debut against the Winnipeg Jets and played a key role in setting up the Washington Capitals’ tying goal.
Saturday night, in his second NHL game, Brouillette did himself one better. With the Capitals and New Jersey Devils mired in a scoreless tie for more than 50 minutes at Verizon Center, the 27-year-old defenseman ripped a shot from the left point that found its way to the back of the net. It was Brouillette’s first NHL goal and stood as the game-winner in the Capitals’ 3-0 win over New Jersey.
“Couldn’t even think of anything. It was just so confusing but so great at the same time,” said Brouillette, whose parents, Lucy and Alain, had driven from their farm in St. Esprit, Quebec, to see his first NHL stint. “The guys put together a win and it’s awesome. It’s going to be hard to sleep tonight.”
Brouillette’s timely contribution — along with empty-net goals by both Martin Erat and Troy Brouwer and a 25-save shutout by Braden Holtby — allows the Capitals to spend the NHL’s two-week hiatus for the Olympics basking in the glow of having won three of their past four.
With the victory, Washington moved to 63 points and passed the Devils, moving just one point out of a playoff spot. The Capitals also snapped their seven-game losing streak against Metropolitan Division opponents.
“Obviously wanted to go into the break on a high note and as close to the playoff picture as we could be,” said Holtby, who saw his teammates stay on task even as the game remained in a scoreless deadlock. “We were pretty confident in the way we were playing defensively. . . . That was a good thing that we knew what we had to do and that was fight for one goal or two goals in the period, and we did it.”
Patience isn’t a strategy so much as a way of life for New Jersey. The Devils don’t take unnecessary risks, they consistently have at least three skaters back to protect their own blue line and can frustrate any opponent with an offensive inclination by poking the puck away or intercepting a pass.
That identity means that, to beat them, teams must maintain their composure for the Devils rarely get rattled. The first period offered that test up for the Capitals.
Washington recorded only six shots on Cory Schneider (23 saves) in the opening period, but four of those came on the power play and the only quality looks came on their first man-advantage of the night.
Aside from that initial power play, the home team struggled to get out of its own end or send a pass that wouldn’t be intercepted. New Jersey’s anticipation was on point as the visitors forced turnovers, stripped the puck off Capitals’ sticks and derailed attempts at moving through the neutral zone.
“The Devils play that type of game,” said Coach Adam Oates, who is quite familiar with the approach because of his two seasons as an assistant coach in New Jersey. “They’re willing to play that way every night, and it’s a frustrating team to play because they don’t give you much.”
The second period didn’t offer much encouragement either, considering much of the frame looked like a Devils power play though the teams played the entire 20 minutes at even strength.
The Capitals spent the first seven minutes of the middle period bottled up in their own zone, chasing the play as New Jersey worked the puck around. Adam Henrique had one of the best opportunities, but despite catching Holtby out of position, his point-blank shot from the slot clanked off the right post with 3 minutes 16 seconds gone.
“That one shift against that we got through without getting scored on,” Holtby said. “That was probably big — turned the tide knowing that maybe tonight is our night and the guys battled really hard tonight.”
The bottom half of the Capitals’ lineup threatened a few times before the period expired. Jay Beagle had two cracks at a rebound loose in front while Joel Ward drove the net and created a ruckus around Schneider’s crease, but he too couldn’t find a way to get the puck across the line.
It wasn’t until Nicklas Backstrom won an offensive zone faceoff off an icing and the puck wound up on Brouillette’s stick on the left point that Washington cracked Schneider.
In the final two minutes, Erat scored on an empty net, recording his first goal of the season in his 51st game of the year, and Brouwer potted one into the empty cage as well that marked the 100th goal of his career.
“It’s huge,” Alex Ovechkin said of the win. “After we come back from the Olympics, we’re going to be on a good note, in a good mood. The team will have left with a smile on our face. We did a great job tonight, we knew it was going to be hard.”