- Carlson celebrates his game-winning goal. (Photo: Associated Press)
The signs were all there for the Washington Capitals Sunday afternoon. They had given up an early goal and had trailed after a first period that was played by both teams with all the intensity of a casual skate at the Sculpture Garden's Ice Rink. They hadn't been able to get one past the opposing goaltender (Brian Elliott in this case), despite putting him under sustained periods of pressure since the middle of the second period. And they had a chance to tie Tampa Bay on points for the Southeast Division lead.
"I told [the team] I hope they realize how important this period is to our season," Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau said when he was asked what he told his team during the second intermission while they still trailed, 1-0.
It was hyperbole, but rooted in substance. The Capitals were 20 minutes away from their fourth consecutive loss, with a trip to Philadelphia to face the Eastern-Conference leading Flyers looming Tuesday night. With that trip sandwiched around around a discouraging 4-2 loss to Vancouver on Friday evening, this Sunday afternoon matchup was not the time for a surprise slip-up.
Fortunately, it didn't come to pass, as the Capitals got the goals their pressure deserved. First Brooks Laich took advantage of a turnover by Chris Phillips, snapping the game-tying goal into the net with 7:15 gone in the third period. 45 seconds later, with a Capitals power play all of two seconds old, John Carlson blasted an unstoppable shot from just above the left face-off circle to make it 2-1. That was followed, in turn, by Jason Chimera's bank shot off the back of Elliott from along the goal line with 6:29 remaining to make it 3-1 and end the competitive portion of the game.
Unlike on Friday night against Vancouver, the sins of the Caps were not those of effort, but of execution. They had multiple golden opportunities in the first period to erase their early deficit, but missed each time. On one occasion, Marcus Johansson, newly promoted to the top line for this game along with Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom, had a wide-open shot attempt from the slot, but missed Elliott's net completely. Another time, Ovechkin flipped a pass at the net that Elliott couldn't handle, but no one could prod home the rebound on the doorstep. In the second period, Mike Knuble and David Steckel both had glorious chances from close range, but Elliott was there to deny both opportunities.
But then, Chris Phillips' attempted clearing pass to the center of the ice went by the stick of Daniel Alfredsson and on to the stick of Laich, who put the puck in the net for the first time since December 15 instead of into Elliott's catching glove or off the end boards, and the Capitals were on their way.
Similar fortitude will be required Tuesday night in Philadelphia if the Capitals are to get anything from that game and re-establish their bona fides as Eastern Conference contenders. "They're the best in the league in scoring those ugly goals and getting to the net," Boudreau said of the Flyers, who will be a stern test for the newly-cobbled together forward lines and pairings of the Capitals.
Washington found a way through their frustration against Ottawa Sunday afternoon. If they can keep doing that on a regular basis, then this season may not be lost after all.
My Three Stars
Brooks Laich-Scored the game-tying goal and continued his usual sterling work on the penalty kill.
John Carlson-Scored the eventual game-winner and made some timely interventions on the defensive end .
Michal Neuvirth-Stopped 22 shots, including a couple of point-blank chances.
The Capitals placed Alexander Semin (lower-body injury) on injured reserve retroactive to January 8 to make room on the roster for Andrew Gordon, who was called up last night from Hershey. Semin, who joins Matt Bradley and D.J. King on the injured reserve list, can be recalled at any time.