Paybacks are hell.
Avalanche defensemen Ian Cole put a dirty cheap shot on Evgeny Kuznetsov midway through the third period sending #92 to the locker room for concussion protocol. Cole would be penalized five minutes for interference and a game misconduct plus another five minutes for getting his butt whipped by Tom Wilson. The play came with the Caps leading 3-2. Pheonix Copley (34 saves) then gave up a short side five hole goal with 2:07 remaining to send the contest to overtime.
In the overtime came Kuzy’s revenge, who didn’t return to play after the Cole cheap shot until the extra session. Taking a pass from Alexander Ovechkin in his own zone, Evgeny skated in all alone on Colorado goalie Semyon Varlamov and beat him five hole to win the game for Washington, 4-3. The play was very similar to the one in which Ovi sprung Kuzy for the winning OT tally in game six of last spring’s Pittsburgh playoff series.
On the night, Kuznetsov had two goals and an assist in 19:49 of ice time. He was outstanding even though he missed the last 8:42 of regulation. It was fitting that Kuzy rewarded his pal Wilson for standing up for him with the game winner. On both of Evgeny’s overtime shifts he looked like a man possessed to make Wilson’s leadership and support all worthwhile, and he did.
As I said to General Manager Brian MacLellan following Tuesday night’s victory over Vancouver, the Caps typically go as number 92 goes. Evgeny is playing some excellent hockey this week and looks like the guy who dominated in the post season last spring.
Washington carried the play in much of this affair and as a result they earned six power plays for a total of 12:32. They scored on their first attempt, but because zebras Gord Dwyer and Tim Peel allegedly blew the whistle before Ovechkin’s shot that sneaked through Varly was slammed home by Nicklas Backstrom, it was waved off. That would’ve given the Caps a 2-0 lead after Andre Burakovsky scored his 7th of the season off of a sweet feed from T.J. Oshie to open the scoring.
The Caps led 1-0 after 20 minutes, but just 35 seconds into period two, Nathan MacKinnon scored a short side bad angled goal on Copley when Pheonix didn’t hold the near post properly. On the night, Copley would make some quality saves, including a great one on MacKinnon all alone when it was 1-1, but he also gave up two real clunkers.
Washington built a 3-1 lead on Kuznetsov’s first goal, which was a second period tap in of another Ovechkin shot that got through Varlamov, but the zebras didn’t prematurely blow the whistle in this instance. That power play goal gave the Caps a one puck lead after 40 minutes. Matt Niskanen made it two just 34 seconds into period three with his eighth tally of the season when Varly was screened by his own defender and then batted Nisky’s shot, that might have been going wide, into the cage.
The Avs would come back and credit Colorado for not quitting, as well as the Capitals stagnant power play for not adding to the advantage. Shortly after another Caps power play expired, the Avs cut the lead to a single goal when Andre Burakovsky, who had a strong game up until that point, made a soft backhanded pass into the middle of the ice in the defensive zone. Gabriel Landeskog scooped it up and fed Mikko Rantanen, who abused Dmitry Orlov with a move, and then buried his 24th goal of the season just 5:10 into period three. The Caps still had chances to extend the lead with the three minutes of power play time they received for the Cole cheap shot, but they could not do so. Copley then gave up a horrible five hole tally from the goal line setting the stage for Kuznetsov’s magic and subsequent “Flying Bird” celebration (take that, Columbus Blue Jackets).
Washington did a lot of good things in this contest, but they are struggling to consistently finish on their chances, especially on the power play. They also only took two penalties and killed both of them off rather easily. The third line showed signs of breaking out of its doldrums as Lars Eller, Brett Connolly, and Burky had some really good shifts. Unfortunately Andre’s giveaway that led to goal two for Colorado resulted in #65 only getting one more shift the rest of the way.
Travis Boyd played well in the bottom six drawing two penalties, but Caps Coach Todd Reirden needs more production from Devante Smith-Pelly (1 shot on goal, 1 penalty, -1, in 8:49 of ice time) and Chandler Stephenson (1 shot on goal in 10:34 of ice time). Ovechkin had seven shots on net and two assists in 25:22 of time.
This was far from a perfect performance by the Caps, but as stated above, they did do a lot of good things and they managed to get two points to keep pace with the New York Islanders, who knocked off the Devils in a shootout on Thursday night. Washington is two points behind the Metropolitan Division leading Isles and three points ahead of the third place Penguins (lost in OT to Florida on Thursday night).
Kuznetsov was the primary key to the victory and his game winning tally was major pay back to Cole and the Avalanche.
Notes: John Carlson had an assist in a game leading 28:41 of ice time…the faceoff battle was even at 27 each. Kuzy was 7-5 and Eller went 8-6…Madison Bowey played on the 3rd pair with Brooks Orpik (Jonas Siegenthaler was scratched)…next up for the Caps are the Florida Panthers at 7 pm on Saturday night at Capital One Arena.