It was 3-1 Sabres going into the third period and the Washington Capitals season was basically on the line.
Sure they were carrying much of the play after a horrid first 20 minutes, but the way Jhonas Enroth (35 saves) was going it wasn’t looking good for the Caps
Even after Troy Brouwer scored on a shorthanded goal set up by Braden Holtby (yes, you read that correctly), the Caps were down a puck and had to pull their goalie in the last minute to try and tie the game. Fortunately Mike Green lasered one in with 40 seconds remaining and then Matt Hendricks and Alexander Ovechkin scored on the first two Caps shootout tries while the two Buffalo shooters failed to tally to give Washington a huge 4-3 comeback victory.
It was two points the Caps had to have and they found a way to get it against a bad Buffalo squad.
The win pulls Washington to within five points of Southeast Division leading Winnipeg (and the Caps have 2 games in hand) and they are now just two points in back of the 8th place New York Rangers, who continue to lose under dictator John Tortorella despite having a very talented roster.
With the trade deadline fast approaching on Wednesday, the Capitals players had a big chance to show their general manager that they still have a club that can make the post season with the three games in four nights that started on Saturday in Buffalo. A loss to one of the weaker clubs, the Sabres, would surely signal that George McPhee should get on the phone and start selling. Well, this win keeps the “add players to improve the team” option open to McPhee and they have a chance to increase the probability of that option on Sunday night when they take on the Flyers in Philadelphia at 6 pm.
There were lots of good things in this victory. Ovechkin was all over the ice and his stat line for the contest reads:
1 goal, 1 shootout goal, +1, 17 shots attempted (10 on goal), 3 hits, and two takeaways in 25:57 of ice time
It is pretty obvious that the Gr8, who notched his 17th tally of the season, is trying as hard as possible to carry his club out of its huge standings hole and into the post season. He has been playing extremely well since being reunited with Nicklas Backstrom a couple of weeks ago.
Holtby (20 saves and an assist) probably should have had the first tally by Christian Ehrhoff but the other two, by Ville Leino, were layups as Washington played poorly in their own end for stretches in the first two periods. #70 made some big stops to give his club a chance to come back and tie it and then he did his job, along with the post, in the shootout.
Overall, the effort was really there after a slow start, which might have been due to four days off. It was clear which club wanted it more at the end and as a result, the Capitals found a way to win.
The poor play in their own end, especially to start the game, must stop immediately. This is two straight games that the opponents are getting the lead goal because the Capitals are sleep walking in their zone. Remember what happened the last time the Caps went to Philadelphia? The Flyers scored on the very first shift and Washington had no chance and were smoked. A good start to correcting the defensive zone would be to sit Jeff Schultz and put Dmitry Orlov back in. #55 did not look good at all in his 11 plus minutes of action, which appeared to me to be a showcasing scenario. Washington needs to be prepared for the physical play they’ll get from the Flyers forwards.
So the Caps improve to 16-17-1 and will try for the third time this season to reach the .500 mark. The last two times they had bad starts and lost to the Islanders. Will things be different in the City of Brotherly Love on Sunday?
If the Caps players want to stay together and not be sold off at the deadline, they better find a way to get it done on Sunday.
But for Saturday night and into early Sunday morning the Capitals are still in the race. They were on the ropes but found a way to get it done in Buffalo.
So go ahead and crank up the Bee Gees after this one, because as sure as Barry Gibb and his brothers sang it back in the 1970’s, the Caps are living that theme tonight after a huge comeback against the Sabres.
“Feel the City Breakin’ and Everybody Shakin’ and we’re stayin’ Alive, stayin’ Alive”
Notes: The attempted shots were 66 to 41 in favor of Washington…the Caps won the faceoff battle, 32-29, which included a big win by Brouwer right before Green tied the game…Wojtek Wolski suited up and played only 8:23. The injury to Eric Fehr is hurting the lineup as #16 was playing well this season…Down a level, Philip Grubauer stopped 37 shots as Hershey rallied to defeat Providence, 3-2 on Satruday night. The Bears improve to 32-26-3-6 (73 points) and remain in the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference with nine games left in the regular season.