Chandler Stephenson sat on the bench, squeezed between teammates, and laughed while looking up at the Capital One Arena video board.
There was some humor in the statistical oddity of the previous 47 seconds, but the replays confirmed it all. Stephenson had scored just twice in the first 49 games of his career heading into Wednesday night’s game against the Philadelphia Flyers, then doubled that total in less than a minute and on a single shift early in the second period. First, he punched in a rebound. Next he scored on a breakaway, and those two goals formed the foundation of the Capitals’ 5-3 win coming out of the all-star break.
The Capitals (30-15-5) have struggled after long layoffs the past two seasons but shook off the rust thanks to Stephenson and power-play goals from Andre Burakovsky and T.J. Oshie.
“It felt pretty crazy,” said the 23-year-old Stephenson of the first two-goal game of his career, which could only be classified as such because of how quick the scores came in a matchup that had troubled the Capitals this season.
In October, the Flyers lit up the scoreboard in an 8-2 win over the Capitals. In a much-tighter rematch two Sundays ago, the Flyers earned a 2-1 overtime win by clogging passing lanes, turning away a flurry of third-period chances and leaving the Capitals without a five-on-five goal.
The Flyers scored early on an odd-man rush goal from Nolan Patrick 78 seconds into the contest and looked to protect the lead by clogging the neutral zone. And while the Capitals did gain a foothold in the Flyers’ zone, the deficit only grew when Travis Konecny knocked in a rebound before the end of the first period.
But then Stephenson, skating on the third line with Lars Eller and Brett Connolly, stole the first few minutes of the second. Stephenson had been on the Capitals’ fourth line in recent games but slid up to the third as Trotz sat 21-year-old Jakub Vrana as a healthy scratch. He struck first by tapping in a rebound created by an odd-angle shot by Eller. Next, rookie defenseman Madison Bowey slid a diagonal stretch pass from deep in the Capitals’ zone that found Stephenson skating along the opposite blue line. Stephenson drifted toward Flyers goaltender Michal Neuvirth and finessed a shot through his legs, lighting the lamp behind the net and leaving him beaming along the boards.
Stephenson had not scored in the Capitals’ previous 28 games before doubling his career total in less than a minute. The second goal came so fast that the public address announcer had not yet announced the first to the buzzing crowd.
The Capitals have regularly rotated wingers on the third and fourth lines, as Stephenson, Vrana, Alex Chiasson and Devante Smith-Pelly have cycled in and out of the lineup. Capitals Coach Barry Trotz sitting the young, speedy Vrana was just the latest shake-up, and Trotz has repeatedly said that all of those forwards are competing for ice time from game to game. Stephenson, who’s earned respect of his teammates for digging in in the defensive zone, made his case to stick in the lineup by adding another dimension to his defense-first approach.
“It meant everything,” Eller said of Stephenson’s two goals. “You’re down 2-0 going into the second, not really feeling very good, knowing you have to score at least two to tie it up, and you get two quick ones like that. That gives the whole bench energy, takes some weight off everybody.”
Later in the second period, Burakovsky edged the Capitals in front by redirecting a pass from Eller past Neuvirth. That snapped a nine-game goal drought for Burakovsky and gave Eller two assists in the game, each one getting a slumping player on track.
It was also the fourth goal in nine games for the Capitals’ second power-play unit, a group that is often shortchanged due to the team’s insistence on keeping Alex Ovechkin and the first unit on the ice for as long as possible.
In the third, Oshie buried a 13-game scoring slump with one swing of his stick, scoring from the middle of the zone on a power play. The teams then traded goals to reach the final score, and the Capitals had already given enough weight to the best stretch of Stephenson’s career.
It took him a while, more than 545 minutes of ice time, to score his first two goals. Those next two came in a 47-second span. It was enough to make a young player laugh and lead the Capitals to two points against a divisional rival.
“When someone works hard and plays the right play, when they get rewarded like that and get you out of a sticky situation or a bad start, it fuels you, it’s contagious,” Oshie said of Stephenson. “You want to jump in on all the fun.”
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