RALEIGH, N.C. — Jay Beagle's job simply was to win the defensive-zone faceoff. But as Alex Ovechkin carried the puck up the ice, Beagle drove to the net. When Nicklas Backstrom's pass landed on his stick, he swatted at it. When it crossed the goal line, Beagle skated back into the glass and allowed his teammates to swarm him. The goal beat the horn signaling the end of regulation by 1.3 seconds.
"I'm just crashing the net eyes closed, and it hits my stick, so there you go," Beagle said.
As Beagle spoke to reporters in the PNC Arena visiting locker room after the Capitals' 4-3 win over the Carolina Hurricanes on Friday night, Alex Ovechkin stood off to the side and chirped. "That's a legend," the captain said of Beagle.
Washington's best center in the faceoff circle, Beagle typically takes draws in the defensive zone with other lines before skating to the bench and changing for the winger who usually skates on that forward trio. But with 17 seconds left in regulation, Coach Barry Trotz told Beagle to stay on for the full shift, especially if Washington won the draw and got a clean zone exit.
"Twenty seconds left, I live for those draws," Beagle said. "That's what I've always like to take, when there's those pressure situations on those draws in our zone."
The 1.3 seconds that kept the game from overtime meant Carolina didn't even get a standings point out of the closely contested contest, and in the ultra-competitive Metropolitan Division, that one point could make a difference at the end of the season. As Washington enters its five-day bye week, the team is in first place with a cushy six-point lead.
"It keeps some good distance," Trotz said. "We've got a few days off here, and it'll make the break a lot more pleasurable, that's for sure."
Goaltender Philipp Grubauer had stopped 86 straight even-strength shots over his previous eight-plus periods before Jeff Skinner split Washington's John Carlson and Brooks Orpik and then seemed to catch Grubauer off guard with a perfectly placed shot. That gave the Hurricanes a 3-2 lead less than two minutes into the third period. Grubauer would finish with 36 saves.
Washington then got a power-play opportunity 4:03 into the period when Noah Hanifin was called for hooking Tom Wilson, but Backstrom was called for tripping 1:07 later, negating a man-advantage that seemed to be the Capitals' best opportunity to tie the game. Players looked frustrated — Oshie smacked his stick against the ice, and Ovechkin appeared to shout at an official.
But Washington's bench found its signature poise, and with 3:08 left in regulation, Oshie's forecheck pressure forced Hanifin into an egregious turnover, an errant pass in front of Carolina's net. Brett Connolly got to the puck and wasted no time swatting it through goaltender Cam Ward's pads to tie the game at three. Connolly has three goals in the past seven games, and since Trotz moved Oshie to the third line with center Lars Eller, the line arguably has been the team's best.
"That's the thing with Osh," Connolly said. "He gives you 110 percent of his effort every single game."
Grubauer entered Friday's game 3-0-2 over his past six appearances with a 1.04 goals against average and a .965 save percentage, allowing just two even-strength goals in that span. He has been virtually unbeatable at even strength — he entered the game having stopped 110 of the past 111 even-strength shots he had faced — but the Hurricanes were able to do damage with the power play from the start.
Connolly was called for interference 3:10 into the game, and just 10 seconds later, a pretty Carolina passing sequence was capped off with Justin Williams setting up a Jordan Staal wrister from the slot. Washington's power play got a chance roughly two minutes later, and just seconds before the man-advantage expired, a mad scramble broke out in front of the net. Ward was on all fours trying to cover the puck as it pin-balled between seven bodies around the crease.
The puck eventually got loose, and Ovechkin swiped it with his stick and passed it to Jakub Vrana. Vrana's shot caromed off the post, then off Eller's foot and then into the net for one of the season's oddest goal sequences.
"They were determined that the puck was going to end up in the back of the net," Trotz said.
The teams traded power-play goals again in the second period, but then that determined gleam Trotz referenced roared back just in time.
"We're winning games, and I think we're exceeding a lot of people's expectations for us this year," Connolly said. "It's a lot of fun to be doing that right now. We've got a really good feeling here. Everyone's having a great time playing. A lot of laughs, and you know, that's when hockey's fun. We're having a good time right now."
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