Washington has played this way in spurts, but maintaining it has been a concern. And even though that problem continued during the first 40 minutes Friday night in what eventually became a 6-5 shootout win over the Vancouver Canucks, the Capitals’ stellar third period let them escape with two points in a game that had looked all but lost.
After trailing 5-1 late in the second period, the Capitals (8-2-3) scored four unanswered goals to tie it at 5 less than eight minutes into the third. Neither team could score in overtime, sending the game to a shootout. Rookie goaltender Ilya Samsonov denied the Canucks twice; T.J. Oshie and Nicklas Backstrom scored in the shootout, and Backstrom’s tally was the game-winner.
“I think something that we’ve been showing all season is we never give up and that was a great example of that,” Backstrom said. “You are not going to come back like this every game, but once in a while it is nice and especially here in Vancouver.”
Washington finishes its five-game road trip Tuesday at Toronto. The Capitals are 6-1-1 on the road this season.
After his team dropped the first leg of this back-to-back, 4-3 in overtime, at Edmonton on Thursday, Reirden emphasized using the team’s strong second period, in which it outscored the Oilers 3-1, as a blueprint for the rest of the season.
In Friday’s third period, the Capitals answered Reirden’s call. The Capitals overcame a deficit of four goals to win a game for the fifth time in franchise history and first since Dec. 23, 2008 (5-4 OT win against the New York Rangers).
“I think guys right now are showing good attitude to the start of the season,” Backstrom said. “We wanted to come out with a good start, collecting points and that is what it is all about in the regular season and so far so good. Something that if you want to be successful in this league you win on the road and we did that.”
After Evgeny Kuznetsov scored with 0.3 seconds left in the second period to cut the Canucks’ lead to 5-2, Lars Eller opened the scoring in the third with a shorthanded goal against goaltender Jacob Markstrom. Defenseman Michal Kempny kept the energy going with a slap shot from the blue line five minutes into the period before he scored on a similar shot two minutes later to tie it. That outburst gave Kempny three goals in five games this season.
The Capitals had found the rhythm they had when they started the game, with Kuznetsov tallying the first goal off a smooth dish from Jakub Vrana. Kuznetsov was battling hard in the offensive zone for the entire shift, landing a hard hit before scoring on a point-blank shot at 3:18. Reirden said Kuznetsov had his best game all season, with his second tally of the night the biggest momentum swing headed into the second intermission.
But as soon as the Capitals moved in front early, their lead slipped away.
The Canucks scored five straight goals — by Brock Boeser, Tim Schaller (twice), Elias Pettersson and Jake Virtanen — before Kuznetsov got one back just before the second-period buzzer. When the Capitals returned to the ice, everything started to click, even though their stars failed to hit the scoresheet. Captain Alex Ovechkin had no shots through the first 40 minutes, and Backstrom had one. Ovechkin and defenseman John Carlson each failed to record a point Friday, ending their nine-game point streaks.
And early on, the Canucks had their way with Samsonov, who was equally at fault as Washington’s poor defensive execution was. But when Washington needed him most, when the Canucks were getting a flurry of chances in the third, Samsonov delivered.
“[Samsonov] still made some great saves and he certainly made some big saves in the third and overtime and great to see him in the shootout,” Reirden said. “He looked so comfortable and confident back there. Give up a goal or doesn’t give up a goal, it doesn’t really change the way he reacts and that is a rarity for young goaltenders, something special that he has. He has a really bright future ahead of him.”
Reirden decided to switch up the lines against the Canucks, looking for different ways to get all four lines to contribute. Travis Boyd made his season debut, slotted on the fourth line in place of Chandler Stephenson. Vrana was bumped to the second line, and Carl Hagelin moved to the third. On the blue line, the pairs were swapped throughout the game, but Nick Jensen, who didn’t play much in the late moments of Thursday’s loss, started on the third pairing with Jonas Siegenthaler.