The door to the Washington Capitals’ penalty box was plenty active Friday night. Less than three weeks ago, the teams engaged in a melee at Capital One Arena in which the Capitals’ Garnet Hathaway spit on Erik Gudbranson, resulting in a three-game suspension for the Capitals’ fourth-line winger.
The bad blood took about a period to reach a boil. After the Capitals played a disciplined game in the first period and led 1-0 after Travis Boyd’s goal, the teams let loose, combining for 64 penalty minutes that included four fighting majors in the final two periods.
Despite the scrappy play and both teams trading goals in both the second and third periods, the Capitals (22-4-5) fended off a hungry Ducks team to improve to an astonishing 14-2-1 on the road. Washington is on a six-game win streak, with a sweep against the league’s three California teams.
“All three totally different ways to try to win and get the outcome we wanted,” Capitals Coach Todd Reirden said. “Tonight kind of sums it up for me. That is what we are right now. We’ve been able to kind of get this special connection from training camp on, really. Guys are standing up for each other, whether it is fighting, not fighting, everyone is always together in any scrums.”
Evgeny Kuznetsov doubled the Capitals’ lead early in the second period before Ryan Getzlaf cut it to 2-1 entering the third. It was Kuznetsov’s 12th goal of the season.
Anaheim equalized just 45 seconds into the final period, but the Capitals were not to be denied. Less than a minute later, Jakub Vrana capitalized off an Anaheim turnover that ended up right on his stick, as he punched in his own rebound for a score that held up as the winner. It was Vrana’s 15th goal of the season, all at even strength.
“You could see, that was the one and it ended up right on my tape so I just tried to finish it up,” Vrana said.
Goaltender Braden Holtby made a handful of key stops late in the frantic third period from both teams and improved to 15-2-4 on the season. He finished with 36 saves.
“Obviously we played some pretty good hockey, and then this game was more you just have to find a way to grind out a win, and guys did just that,” Holtby said. “Obviously it wasn’t our prettiest game of the year, but sometimes you need to have those.”
Friday’s contest started rather tame, before Hathaway and Gudbranson were involved in two tussles — the first was an uneventful scrap 4:54 into the second, before both traded punches in the third. The latter resulted in dueling five-minute fighting majors.
The pair’s first scrap proved to be most beneficial for the Capitals. After both players were assessed 10-minute misconducts, Gudbranson was assessed an extra two-minute unsportsmanlike penalty.
Washington scored only 16 seconds into its ensuing power-play chance with Kuznetsov’s wrister getting past goaltender Ryan Miller for a 2-0 lead at 5:10 in the middle frame. It was Kuznetsov’s 12th goal. John Carlson tallied the primary assist, bumping his point total to 43 (11 goals, 32 assists).
Following Hathaway into the box minutes later was Radko Gudas, who fought Nicolas Deslauriers midway through the second frame. Deslauriers is 6-foot-1, 221 pounds. Gudas is 6 feet, 204 pounds.
“Today, when Radko had to fight a pretty big guy, that means a lot to the group, and, you know, he got a lot of respect in our locker room — and after that, ever more,” Kuznetsov said.
In a frantic sequence, the Ducks had a power-play goal wiped away with 8:45 left in the second period that was challenged by Washington for offsides. However, the Ducks came right back at 2:57, with Ryan Getzlaf tallying the scramble in front of the net. Getzlaf’s goal gave Anaheim momentum headed into the early frame, but after both teams traded goals in the third, the Ducks could get no closer.
“When you play a team like this when they are as fired up as they were tonight, not many teams can handle that but our team can and that is one of our big strengths,” Holtby said.
In a game full of back-and-forth play, Washington did come away with positive areas on the ice, including Boyd’s opening goal came with 11 minutes left in the first. Tight to the goal line, Boyd was able to find a small angle to sneak the puck off goaltender Ryan Miller’s skate and into the back of the net. It was Boyd’s eighth point of the season (two goals, six assists) through 16 games.
With Nicklas Backstrom missing his eighth straight game with an upper body injury, Boyd has been given an extended opportunity to showcase his skill set. Earlier in the team’s road trip, when Carl Hagelin was eligible to be activated off long-term injured reserve, the team made a salary cap-related move to trade away Chandler Stephenson to the Vegas Golden Knights. The move signaled the team’s trust in Boyd as the extra forward over Stephenson — and so far, Boyd has made the most of the opportunity.
“Quite a relief,” Boyd said of when he heard he wasn’t the player getting moved. “Obviously happy to hear that. It’s been a tough start to the year, a mental grind. . . . Happy to be here and part of this team.”
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