ANAHEIM, Calif. — It was so good it deserved overtime. This matchup of the Anaheim Ducks and the Washington Capitals lived up to the billing, the league’s hottest team and its best playing each other, and extra hockey was a gift.
The Capitals beat the Ducks, 2-1, in a shootout, winning a game so close and so entertaining that it felt better suited for June than early March. In his best game since January, goaltender Braden Holtby made 27 saves and stopped two shootout strikes. Shootout goals by T.J. Oshie and Nicklas Backstrom lifted Washington to the win.
“You never know what’s going to work out in the end, but tonight was a high-pace game,” Oshie said. “It felt a lot like playoff hockey.”
“You can tell it was just a battle all night long,” Holtby said. “It was a very good game. Very good hockey team over there, and we believe we are one here, too. It’s fun to play in those games and even better when you come out on top.”
The game nearly ended with less than two minutes left in regulation, when Mike Richards jumped on a giveaway by Cam Fowler and had only goaltender John Gibson to stop him. Gibson saved Richards’s backhand shot, and the game went to a three-on-three extra frame.
With 1 minute 40 seconds left in the overtime, the Ducks were called for their second too-many-men penalty of the game, giving the Capitals a four-on-three for what would have been the rest of the overtime period. But Oshie was sent to the penalty box just 16 seconds into the power play for closing his hand on the puck, negating the man advantage.
The game then went to the shootout, where the Capitals’ combination of skilled forwards and stout goaltending is almost unfair.
Facing a 1-0 deficit through two periods, the Capitals got the equalizer 41 seconds into the third. The second line put on a passing clinic; Justin Williams had a one-touch drop pass through his legs to Evgeny Kuznetsov, who flicked the puck across the slot to Andre Burakovsky on the right side. Gibson sprawled to stop Burakovsky’s shot, but he couldn’t get to the opposite post in time.
It was fitting that line finally broke through, because the trio had been the most active in the first two periods. Williams, Kuznetsov and Burakovsky had combined for nine shots on goal, half of the team’s total.
“Lately, we’ve had a lot of chances to score,” Burakovsky said. “We’ve not been really good at it. We’re creating, but we’re not really sharp on the shot. It’s something we have to get better.”
A game that started with a Ryan Getzlaf goal exactly a minute in morphed into a goaltending duel, so letting the goaltenders decide the outcome in a shootout was apropos. Gibson and Holtby were both selected to the All-Star Game, and they again starred on Monday. Holtby had 25 saves in regulation, but it was the nature of them that was impressive, splitting every which way to stop dangerous scoring chances. He bought time for a team playing in its fifth game in seven nights.
“I got some breaks today, which haven’t really been going that way in the past little bit,” Holtby said. “Step in the right direction. I felt fairly good, but there are some areas that need improvement, too.”
A blizzard postponed what would have been the first meeting between the teams in late January, but Monday night’s game made for one of the more intriguing matchups of the season. The Capitals entered as the league’s top team, while the Ducks were the best lately. Battling for first place in the Pacific Division, Anaheim set a franchise record with 11 straight wins before facing the Capitals.
Anaheim Coach Bruce Boudreau said Monday morning that the game would be a measuring stick, an opportunity for the Ducks to see how they stand up against the Eastern Conference’s best. The Capitals gave Anaheim the same respect.
“It was a fun game to coach,” Coach Barry Trotz said. “It probably was a fun game to watch. I think both teams were emotionally into it, so there was two good teams battling it out. From my standpoint, it was a good test for us.”