SUNRISE, Fla. — After 54 minutes of imperfect play by both teams Tuesday night, the Washington Capitals found themselves trailing the Florida Panthers by a pair of goals. But a comeback didn’t seem farfetched to those on the visitors’ bench in a game that featured turnovers aplenty, defensive breakdowns, odd-man rushes, strange bounces, deflections, tips and nearly every type of hockey chaos imaginable.
The Capitals made a frantic late push, showing the desperation of a team trying to fight its way out of last place in the NHL, and for the first time this year found a way to snatch a victory when defeat seemed imminent.
Goals by Eric Fehr and Alex Ovechkin in the final 5 minutes 7 seconds of regulation forced overtime, where Troy Brouwer scored the game winner for a 6-5 victory over the Panthers.
“We’ve had a lot of games where we’ve given away points and no games where we’ve stolen points,” said Brouwer, who beat Florida netminder Scott Clemmensen just 32 seconds into the extra session. “Tonight, even though we gave them one [point], it’s still nice to be able to battle back. . . . [We were able to] ultimately steal two points where it didn’t look like we were going to get any.”
Even with the dramatic rally to seal their first road win and their first consecutive victories of the season, the Capitals (4-8-1) remained tied for the fewest points in the league with nine. But completing a comeback in a game that several players and Coach Adam Oates acknowledged could have been much more cleanly executed should provide a mental boost for the entire team.
“This win will do us wonders in the long run, knowing that we can come back,” said goaltender Braden Holtby, who stopped 27 of the 32 shots he faced.
From the start the game was strange. Ovechkin got into a scrap with Florida forward Kris Versteeg and Washington took the initial lead off a power-play goal by Mike Ribeiro within the first five minutes. The Capitals suddenly fell silent, though, getting outshot, 13-1, in the final 15:03 of the first and going 12:27 without a shot on goal. During that span, the Panthers recorded a pair of goals off deflections by Tomas Fleischmann and Shawn Matthias in less than three minutes. Both goals came with the Capitals’ top line on the ice and after defensive-zone miscues by Ovechkin.
“We make lots of mistakes in our zone, especially when we’re losing the puck on the blue line and then, you know, they got lucky bounces,” Ovechkin said. “It’s kind of situation when you have to fight through it.”
The two teams traded chances and goals in the second. Karl Alzner and Matt Hendricks scored for Washington while rookie center Jonathan Huberdeau recorded two goals from in front for Florida — the first another deflection and the second a shot in the crease — to give the home team a 4-3 lead entering the third period.
Just 6:25 into the final frame of regulation, another bounce went the Panthers’ way when the puck ricocheted off John Erskine’s stick and past Holtby for a 5-3 advantage. Despite the two-goal deficit, the Capitals felt confident that they could find a way to battle back.
“We had a lot of momentum in that period. We had the puck in their end a lot,” Fehr said. “I think their guys were getting tired and they were starting to make sloppier plays and we were creating turnovers, and I think we could sense it building on the bench.”
Fehr scored his first goal of the season with just more than five minutes remaining in regulation on a redirect of a shot from the blue line by Mike Green to make it 5-4 and get the rally underway.
On the power play with less than three minutes left, Ovechkin blasted a shot off the faceoff win by Nicklas Backstrom to even the score at 5. As Ovechkin high-fived his way down the Capitals bench, there was a sense that finally they would find a way to pull out a win.
In overtime, Backstrom sent a lead pass for Brouwer, who swooped into the offensive zone. Clemmensen (23 saves) stopped his initial shot, but Brouwer poked the puck between the Florida netminder’s legs for the win.
“This is just perfect for us. It was a huge game, division game, and that’s a good boost for us. We know we’re playing better and it’s a matter of keep pushing like this,” Ribeiro said. “This just shows character for us.”