WASHINGTON - Nicklas Backstrom had a goal and an assist and Michal Neuvirth made 20 saves as the Washington Capitals rebounded and brought home a convincing 4-1 win over the Nashville Predators on Tuesday Night. The Caps opened very well and never trailed, but fell back a bit in the middle part of the game before closing it out with authority. In addition, for the first time in forever, Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, and Alexander Semin scored in the same game. "When your top end guys score, it gives the team confidence, the guys on the bench. We played well tonight. We took it to them instead of waiting to see what happens."
The Capitals started very well in the opening five minutes, establishing a nice forecheck, playing physical, and getting some chances on Anders Lindback that the towering Swedish keeper turned away. They continued to play well as the early parts of the period came and went, but failed to capitalize on most of their early chances. That changed with a little more than nine minutes gone, as Alex Ovechkin collected a stretch pass from Karl Alzner and put on a great spin move at the blue line before cutting in on Lindback and roofing it over his glove. DC was awarded a power play right after the goal, and had two awesome chances, one off the stick of Ovechkin and the other John Carlson, but could not cash in to extend the lead.
After the power play, Nashville came back with some chances of their own off odd-man rushes, but Michal Neuvirth was there to keep them at bay. Washington weathered the pressure well, and with 4 minutes left in the period Nicklas Backstrom doubled the lead with a wraparound following a tremendous individual effort behind the net.
Immediately following Backstrom's goal, Alexander Semin was called for boarding in the neutral zone, giving the Predators a chance to cut in to the lead. But the penalty killers held firm, and also managed to escape a wide open Nashville chance in front of Neuvirth with 50 seconds left, and the period closed with the Caps up 2-0 following their best frame in a long time.
The second period started out much more calmly than the first one did, with neither team getting a ton of grade-A chances. Nashville did amp up their pressure after the opening two minutes, keeping the puck in the attacking zone for long stretches. A bad line change then gifted the Preds a second man advantage after a too many men on the ice call, but several great shot blocks kept Shea Weber and the visiting power play from even getting a shot on target.
As the middle stanza carried on, both teams began to see some better scoring opportunities, none better than a two-on-one with Alex Ovechkin and Troy Brouwer that saw the latter ring the crossbar. Unfortunately, they were not able to carry any momentum from that great chance, and fell victim to another silly penalty when Karl Alzner sent the puck over the glass untouched, resulting in a delay of game call. Again, the penalty killers stood tall and released Alexander Semin and Marcus Johansson on a two-on-one, but Johansson could not handle Semin's pass and the puck bounced into the corner.
Washington picked up their pressure again as the period wound down, but once more saw their efforts nullified by a penalty; this time it was Jason Chimera who was boxed for a retaliation cross-check in the offensive zone. But the penalty kill had little problems killing off their fourth shorthanded situation of the night, and the second period closed with DC still in front 2-0.
Nashville came out very hard in the third, putting the home side on their heels with excellent offensive zone possession. Eventually, they were able to break through, as Sergei Kostitsyn dangled in from the red line and ripped a shot over Michal Neuvirth's shoulder to cut the lead in half with fourteen and a half remaining in regulation. The Predators continued to come at the Caps through the middle stages of the frame, as the hosts had little answer and again were victimized by a strong forecheck, failing to gain any momentum.
The Capitals finally caught a break after a Nashville flurry, however, as Alexander Semin ripped one bar down over Lindback's glove from a ridiculous angle to put them up 3-1. Washington was then awarded a power play after a long stretch in the offensive zone, and immediately capitalized with a Dennis Wideman blast that was tipped in front by Troy Brouwer, again over Lindback's glove, to make it 4-1 and ice the result for a desperate Caps team. That took all the wind out of Nashville's sails, and the Caps cruised home with a 4-1 win.
John Carlson is having some kind of season. The Caps' young stud blueliner proved once again why he is their most complete defenseman while Mike Green is out: 25 minutes of ice, an assist, and a plus-one rating. He was making smart plays both with and without the puck and on the penalty kill as well. Sure, he tipped Kostitsyn's goal over Neuvirth's shoulder, but that's picking nits. How lucky Washington is to have their hands on Captain America. Never let him go, George. Okay, lovefest over.
This game was a microcosm of Alexander Semin's career. Spectacular goal, bad penalty, poor decision that leads to a goal for the opposition. But man, that goal was amazing. Sasha was on one leg when he found a way to curl and drag around a defender and absolutely rip a shot into a three inch space past Lindback's ear. Sick, unbelievable.
I loved the play of the 1B line tonight of Marcus Johansson, Nicklas Backstrom, and Alexander Semin. It was certainly an experiment that I was not sure would work, moving Brooks Laich up two lines and keeping two natural centers on the same line. But it worked. "It took some getting used to, but (Backstrom) makes it very easy. He understands the game so well." Both players stretched the ice well and created space for Semin. That's what this team needs. Space and offense.
This was a huge win for the Capitals tonight. After a disastrous game against Colorado, coming in to their own barn against a hot team who doesn't allow many goals was a recipe for disaster. But they rose to the occasion very well. Said Marcus Johansson: "It was huge to get this game. Every one matters now."
Harry Hawkings is a college student who covers the Caps for RtR. Follow him on Twitter here.