With the Capitals facing a two-goal deficit in the second period, Alex Ovechkin scored twice in about a six-minute span to tie the score. Then Washington entered the third period down a goal before Tom Wilson scored twice. The second strike, 17 seconds into overtime, lifted the Capitals to a 5-4 win that improved them to 8-1-1 on the road and 12-2-3 overall.
Evgenii Dadonov’s power-play goal late in the second gave the Panthers a 4-3 lead. It would be the last time the hosts lit the goal lamp.
Wilson’s redirect just 44 seconds into the third period knotted the game at 4. His game-winner capped a stunning sequence that started with a great save by Braden Holtby, who found Evgeny Kuznetsov on a break. The puck eventually landed on the stick of Wilson, who slid it past Sergei Bobrovsky. Holtby had 32 saves on the night, with his left pad save against Aaron Ekblad the clincher. It was Holtby’s fifth game this season with at least 30 saves.
“I stopped for a second and [thought] there wasn’t much I was going to be able to do, and Holts made an amazing save,” Wilson said. “And then I realized I had to get going the other way. We had a chance.”
Wilson’s goal extended the Capitals’ winning streak to five and gave them an NHL-best 27 points.
Wilson’s night was almost cut short after he was hobbled by a blocked shot on the penalty kill late in the second period. Capitals Coach Todd Reirden said after the game he hadn’t been sure whether Wilson would be able to return, but when he did to start the third period, he established an immediate presence.
“That’s how hockey should work — when you want to pay the price and you want to play the game the right way and then things can go your way. I’m not surprised at all to see Tom get rewarded like that,” Reirden said. ‘That kind of sums up how I feel like how his season has gone.”
Washington is 9-0-1 in its past 10 games and again showed it could respond in a difficult situation. Reirden said the one thing he has been happiest about this season is the response the team has shown after subpar play. Reirden described it in one word: “belief.”
“We showed we can win in all kinds of different ways, and coming back from a deficit twice in this game . . . just shows strong character and we stayed in the game,” Lars Eller said.
Thursday’s game started fast and barely slowed. John Carlson’s hot start continued just after the puck dropped with a goal 25 seconds in, his eighth. The score also gave Carlson 429 career points, passing Kevin Hatcher for third place on the team’s all-time list among defensemen. Carlson finished with a three-point night (one goal, two assists) after his assist on Wilson’s game-winner.
Florida’s Frank Vatrano answered Carlson’s score 90 seconds later on a breakaway before former Capital Brett Connolly scored his sixth with 5:34 remaining in the period to put the Panthers up 2-1.
The margin was 3-1 before Ovechkin inserted himself into the scoring, striking from his spot at the faceoff circle on the power play. About six minutes later, at the 12:14 mark of the second, he scored on a feed from Dmitry Orlov to tie it, his 13th goal of the season and the 671st of his career.
“We weren’t as sharp as we can be, and the key to successful teams is trying to figure out ways to win when you are not at your best, and that was a case that it took place tonight,” Reirden said. “Some big efforts from guys, but overall we can play better than that.”
The Capitals’ penalty killing unit, which was a major area of concern last season but has blossomed this year behind a tweaked system and new personnel, held strong. The unit allowed only one goal despite having to kill off back-to-back penalties twice in the second period. The one tally was Dadonov’s, which came on the fourth kill of the night.
Washington was able to kill another crucial penalty with just under nine minutes to play in the third.
The Panthers doubled their margin early in the second period on a goal from Sasha Barkov just 27 seconds into the frame. That’s when Washington turned to a pair of savvy veterans in Ovechkin and Wilson, a pair with plenty of belief.