A few seconds after the announcement that one minute was left in overtime boomed throughout Capital One Arena, Washington Capitals forward T.J. Oshie got to a loose puck in the defensive zone. He looked up the ice and saw Nicklas Backstrom all alone along the right wall. Oshie’s stretch pass hit Backstrom in stride, and fans collectively started to stand as Backstrom skated to the net and beat St. Louis Blues goaltender Carter Hutton for a 4-3 win.
“I was just going,” Backstrom said. “I knew the pass was coming.”
Washington’s bench emptied onto the ice to swarm Backstrom, celebrating a first win in what felt like forever. The Capitals hadn’t played since Tuesday, and after days of practicing game situations and celebrating scoring on each other, it was fun to do it to someone else.
“I don’t think we looked that rusty, to be honest with you,” center Lars Eller said.
With the Capitals trailing by a goal in the third period, rookie Jakub Vrana used his considerable speed to drive toward the net, drawing a tripping penalty from Blues defenseman Jay Bouwmeester. That gave Washington its second power-play opportunity of the period with 12:03 left in regulation, after the Capitals had fallen just short on a man-advantage minutes earlier when Oshie hit a crossbar.
It only took three seconds this time. Alex Ovechkin fired from his beloved office in the left faceoff circle to tie the game and get his second power-play point of the night. In the first period, his shot from the left circle on a power play was redirected by Brett Connolly for the first goal of the game.
“If I have a chance to shoot, I shoot,” Ovechkin said.
Entering the game, Coach Barry Trotz had promoted Oshie back onto a top line with Backstrom and Ovechkin, a trio that had tremendous success over the past two seasons. But Oshie, who had just one point in the seven games since he returned to the lineup after a concussion, admitted that he didn’t deserve to skate that high in the lineup.
Trotz had hoped the move would spark Oshie, but by the time the second period was over, Oshie was on the third line with Eller, and winger Devante Smith-Pelly was back up with Ovechkin and Backstrom.
Just 2:49 after Ovechkin’s goal tied the game, Oshie had a slick indirect assist to Eller when he shot the puck low off Hutton’s left pad. The rebound went straight to Eller, who shot the puck into the top corner of the net to lift Washington to a 3-2 lead. After the Blues had scored two unanswered goals in the second period to go ahead, the Capitals did the same in the third. Oshie finished the game with two primary assists.
“What we did was sort of spread it out [with the line changes], and it created a little more sustainability, very similar to what we’ve been doing the last couple years,” Trotz said. “I thought Osh was really good today, and I thought Lars Eller was really good, so we made that flip.”
With 4:09 left in regulation, St. Louis defenseman Carl Gunnarsson’s point shot somehow wove through traffic and got past Capitals goaltender Braden Holtby, deflecting off Ovechkin in front of the net before bouncing into the blue crease and over Holtby’s pad to tie the game at 3. That ensured overtime, meaning both teams got at least a standings point.
There had been at least some concern about how the Capitals would respond after four days without a game. Wary that his team doesn’t usually play well after a long break, Trotz tried to liven up practices, mixing in several intrasquad scrimmages in the hopes of keeping his team fresh.
Against a Blues team that played Saturday afternoon in Philadelphia, Trotz stressed the importance of a good start Sunday.
It was ultimately the finish that made the difference.
“There’s obviously a little bit of rust, but it’s not really an excuse,” said Holtby, who finished with 31 saves. “It’s something we’ve wanted to get better at, playing on a few days’ rest. In some ways, we did better, and in some ways, we didn’t. But the main thing is we got a win.”