Alexander Ovechkin scored in overtime off of a nice “sauce” pass from Evgeny Kuznetsov and Braden Holtby stopped 25 shots as the Capitals defeated the Carolina Hurricanes, 2-1.
The extra session is supposed to be “sudden death,” but that was not the case on this evening as the Canes challenged the game winner stating that the Capitals were offsides on the zone entry. After a minute or so review, replays seemed to indicate that Kuznetsov came across the line before he brought the puck in, but somehow the goal stood and Washington walked away as winners of their 50th game of the season through 69 tilts. In doing so they clinched a playoff spot and they are the first NHL team to do that in this campaign and they still have 13 more games remaining.
That playoff spot was a formality and at this point, sitting at 50-14-5 (105) points, their magic number to clinch the Presidents’ Trophy is 11 points as only the Los Angeles Kings, if they happened to go 13-0, could reach 115 points. So winning that piece of hardware is a formality, as well. As I’ve said all season, this is the best Capitals team ever and they are only the 6th team in NHL history to win at least 50 out of their first 69 games.
Other milestones on this night included the Holtbeast setting the franchise record for wins in a season with 42. Olie Kolzig had won 41 back in 1999-00. In addition, the Gr8’s winning tally was his 17th career overtime goal and he leads the NHL in overtime markers since 2005-06.
Overall, the Caps played a very solid game against a club that is fighting for a playoff spot. Carolina is weak on talent with Justin Faulk out of the lineup on defense and forward Eric Staal now donning a Blueshirt, but they play a structured game and are well coached by Bill Peters.
Washington came out flying and played their best first period in quite some time. They worked hard, got the puck deep on the Canes defense, and generated numerous scoring chances. Unfortunately they couldn’t finish, hitting the iron at least three times in frame one and on at least five occasions over the course of the entire game. Eddie Lack (29 saves), was good for Carolina in net, but he also had luck on his side, too.
Coach Barry Trotz pulled a Reg Dunlop and shuffled his lines around before this contest moving Jay Beagle up to right wing with Nicklas Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin. He also put T.J. Oshie with Kuznetsov and Andre Burakovsky. Then in an attempt to get the third line going, Justin Williams was paired with Marcus Johansson and Jason Chimera while Mike Richards centered Daniel Winnik and Tom Wilson on the fourth unit.
The moves certainly generated a spark and when Williams put home a great feed from Chimera just 1:30 into the middle frame, the Capitals had scored first for the first time since the Toronto game on March 2nd. Scoring first has been nearly a guaranteed victory when the Caps do so and they are now 30-2-0 when that happens. Coach Trotz stated that the Chimera-Johansson-Williams line was the best for his club against Carolina and it would be hard to argue that one. Chimera and Jojo both performed as well as they have in several weeks.
However, the Canes weren’t going to let this one be easy and Coach Trotz noted that after his club scored, the shift immediately afterwards was not good and that gave Carolina hope that they could stick around. They did just that scoring at 10:50 of period two when Dmitry Orlov gifted the puck to Jordan Staal in the slot right after it looked like the Hurricanes had too many men on the ice.
Following a scoreless third period in which Carolina received a power play, the game went to the extra portion and Coach Trotz started with Beagle, Backstrom, and Matt Niskanen in the three on three format. That was a new overtime configuration and both Nicky and Beags kept several pucks alive in the offensive zone making it tough for the Canes to change players. Those three Caps were on for close to a minute before the three Russians, Ovechkin, Kuznetsov, and Orlov, came on to win the contest.
Carolina was clearly not happy that the goal stood, and they might have a beef, but the zebras didn’t have the best night missing some obvious infractions on Capitals scoring chances, not calling the too many men right before the Canes goal, and ignoring Lack touching the puck outside of the trapezoid in the third period. But that’s hockey and Washington certainly carried enough of the play to deserve the two points and get closer to locking up the Presidents’ Trophy and home ice for the playoffs.
Ovi’s goal was his first in six games and he now has 42 goals this season. He’ll need eight tallies in 13 contests to reach the 50 goal plateau, but I don’t think he really cares much about any individual achievements, at this point. It’s all about winning the Stanley Cup.
On Tuesday night, the Caps certainly had the proper effort from the outset to calm the “bad start” fears that were persisting around this club and its fan base. They didn’t bury the Canes in the goal department, but they certainly dominated the quality scoring chances and shot attempt totals (56-48).
They are also a resilient crew, as evidenced by their 13-0-1 record following a regulation loss this season.
Next up are the Nashville Predators at the Verizon Center on Friday night at 7 pm.
Notes: Holtby stated afterwards that he thought his best save was his first one, on Jeff Skinner, early in the contest. The Holtbeast was dialed in on Tuesday and I thought another great sequence he had was in the third period when he made a sliding save on a Canes power play chance and kept his body in control and in position for any rebound attempt…the Caps won the faceoff battle, 24-20, Kuznetsov was 8-5…Niskanen led the Caps in ice time with 25:27. No Washington player logged less than 11 minutes as Coach Trotz did a nice job of spreading around the ice time….Ovechkin led the Caps with 12 shot attempts and seven shots on goal….Brooks Orpik had seven hits to lead all players on both teams.