Washington Capitals Coach Barry Trotz called Thursday night’s matchup against Winnipeg “a trap game.” The Capitals had just played these same Jets on Tuesday night, flying home from a week-long western Canada swing immediately after the game and arriving back in Washington in the wee hours of Wednesday morning.
“We kind of approached it as it was the last game of the road trip to kind of avoid that saying,” Justin Williams said. “I mean, it usually is.”
It ultimately wasn’t the start of the game that was troublesome for Washington, but the finish. The Capitals took a three-goal lead into the third period only to see the Jets score three consecutive goals to draw even. In overtime, Washington got a power play with 2:39 left after the Jets were called for too many men on the ice, and Alex Ovechkin scored the game-winner on a one-timer from his sweet spot to lift the Capitals to a 4-3 win.
“We just can’t stop playing, and I think we stopped playing,” Ovechkin said. “We were too casual and it almost cost us the game.”
Winnipeg Coach Paul Maurice’s thoughts on the too-many-men penalty in overtime?
“It was horse [crap], so that would be tough to swallow,” Maurice told reporters. “But I can’t blame the referees on it because the linesman called it, which was important that he involved himself in the game at that point. I don’t think it was too many men on the ice. I don’t even think it was that close.”
The game was an eerie exercise in déjà vu. Tuesday night at Winnipeg, the Capitals had a two-goal lead with seven minutes remaining when the Jets rallied to tie. It took Jay Beagle’s goal with 30 seconds left in the game for Washington to escape with the regulation win.
Winnipeg’s comeback Thursday started with Toby Enstrom’s shorthanded goal, the result of a breakout pass being intercepted. Goaltender Braden Holtby came out of the crease for a poke check, but he and John Carlson ran into each other in the process, leaving the net empty for Enstrom to collect the puck and score.
A wrist shot by Adam Lowry cut Washington’s lead to one goal, and Winnipeg’s fourth line worked over Washington’s second line in tying the game with a goal by Marko Dano, who had been scratched in the teams’ first meeting.
“We’ve just got to work on our consistency a little bit,” Trotz said. “I knew that at some point, we were going to have a little bit of a flat period, but we were able to battle through that. When you’re not playing your best, you find ways to win, and we did.”
Washington looked sluggish to start, its first scoring chance coming 7:14 into the game when a Dmitry Orlov slapper ricocheted off the post. But with 5:22 left in the first, Nicklas Backstrom backhanded in a rebound after an Ovechkin shot. That marked Backstrom’s first goal of the season, ending the longest season-opening goalless stretch since 2008-09.
Backstrom’s goal was Washington’s fourth and final shot of the first period. When the teams played Tuesday, the Jets had been the rare team to outshoot the Capitals. They were poised to do so again through the first 20 minutes, as Winnipeg had an 11-4 shot advantage.
“I thought we were flat right out of the gate,” Trotz said.
But within the first two minutes of the second period, Washington had nearly doubled its measly shot total. More significantly, one of the shots was a T.J. Oshie goal, as Andre Burakovsky stole the puck from Julian Melchiori in the right corner and then threw it in front to Oshie.
Trotz said he felt his team stopped its offensive push when it got its two-goal lead on Tuesday, making that a point of emphasis for Thursday’s rematch. So, the Capitals added additional insurance. Backstrom set up a one-timer by Carlson, and Ovechkin punched in the rebound to lift the Capitals to a 3-0 lead halfway through the second period.
Even that lead ultimately wasn’t safe. Before Washington’s two games against Winnipeg, the Capitals had allowed just three even-strength goals in the third period, and just two of those were scored on a goaltender. The Jets scored five goals on the Capitals in the third period in two games.
“We weren’t really hooting and hollering in here,” Oshie said. “We were let down that we didn’t play the way we wanted to but glad we found a way to get a win.”