After 40 minutes, in a game they had to win, things looked terribly bleak for the Washington Capitals.
They had just parlayed a 1-0 lead into a 2-1 deficit following a lackluster middle frame that saw them take three bad penalties, shoot on net just three times, and allow two power play goals. It was hardly the type of effort and production you would see from a team with their season likely on the line.
But Dale Hunter apparently tore into the team in the intermission and Washington came out strong with one of their best periods in a long time to tie the game up with just under four minutes left on Marcus Johansson’s goal off of a Tampa turnover after a super play by Dennis Wideman. Alexander Ovechkin then buried a sweet pass from Dmitry Orlov in OT after Jason Chimera did the work in the corner to win it for the Capitals.
“His message was basically just to man up. Play hard and play as a team. We had a lot of one-on-one play and a lot of turnovers. It was one of the ‘keys’ that we had on the board, was no turnovers. He yelled at us pretty much for one of the first times that he has ever yelled at us and the guys just snapped out of it,” Karl Alzner told the media after the game on #32’s rare display of emotion.
“We knew that if we could get two points tonight it puts us in a good spot to contend for a playoff spot here, but if we weren’t able to pick up these two points, we’d be on the outside looking in and in a real tough place to get back in,” added forward Troy Brouwer on the win.
Brouwer is absolutely correct. Had the Capitals lost this game in regulation they would’ve still been in it but would have finished a key home stand with just three points. Instead they go 2-2-1 (five points) at the Verizon Center on the five game stretch and with teams around them losing and also suffering more injuries (Buffalo lost Tomas Vanek to injury against Boston) they are still alive. Add in the fact that the Florida Panthers got smoked, 5-0, in Philadelphia on Thursday and have to travel to Pittsburgh on Friday night and the Caps could find themselves with a chance to tie for the Southeast Division lead with a victory in Boston on Saturday afternoon.
It was a strange turn of events and Tampa Coach Guy Boucher has to be kicking himself for taking his foot off of the Capitals throats following the defeat. After all the man who was labeled a genius last spring had a 2-1 lead, the best goal scorer in the league in Steven Stamkos, and was employing a rookie playing his first full NHL game in goal. The Bolts had dominated Washington in the second period yet Boucher chose to go to the 1-3-1, which allowed the Caps to get the first 11 shots on goal in the third period? Terrible coaching and Hunter’s crew worked hard to take advantage of the tactical error despite the strong play in goal by Dustin Tokarski (29 saves).
At the other end of the ice, the Caps should be thankful that Tomas Vokoun kept his club in it when the Bolts were actually trying to score. Hunter and company will need many more of those performances from #29 if they want to stay in the playoff race.
As for Ovechkin, it once again was not one of his better games but he rose to the occassion in overtime. Chimera would have been the goal scoring hero had he finished off a great pass from the Gr8 on a two on one just seconds before Ovechkin’s game winner. But #25 didn’t get down and his hustle was what allowed Orlov and Ovechkin to win it.
It was a win the Capitals absolutely had to have, and they found a way to get it.
In closing, I will leave you with my final thoughts on tonight’s victory:
Feel the city breakin’
And ev’rybody shakin’
And we’re stayin’ alive, stayin’ alive.
– Barry Gibb
Notes: The Caps had 68 shots attempted to just 45 for Tampa. The imbalance came from the Bolts going into a shell in the final frame, something I am sure Stamkos (1 assist), Martin St. Louis (1 assist), and Teddy Purcell (1 goal, 1 assist) were not happy about…Mike Green had a big hit on Brett Connolly in the middle frame. #52 went in to cut off #14 as he was coming behind the net. Connolly got hit by Orlov and lost his balance causing Green to catch him in the head with his upper arm. After the game Connolly called it a “hockey play” and blamed himself (h/t Erik Erlendsson of the Tampa Tribune)…Johansson’s goal was his 13th of the season and he beat Tokarski five hole…MJ90 has been asked to do a lot this year and he has given 100% effort at it. He hasn’t always produced but the 21 year old has a bright future…Keith Aucoin had a sweet deflection of an Alzner blast on the 1st Caps goal…the Caps have a busy weekend taking on the Bruins in Boston on Saturday at 1pm followed by a game on Sunday at the Verizon Center at 5pm against the Toronto Maple Leafs.