Nicklas Backstrom celebrates his power-play goal in the first period Sunday. (NYP)
Sunday night was another winning night for the Washington Capitals, who extended their streak of victories to three with a thrilling, dramatic, shootout win over the New York Rangers inside Madison Square Garden. After taking a 2-0 lead in the first ten minutes of the game off of goals from Nicklas Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin, the Rangers got goals from Aaron Asham on a break and then Derek Stepan on a 5vs3 power play to tie the game late in the first. A scoreless final 45 minutes set the stage for the shootout, where Nicklas Backstrom won the game in the bottom of the fourth with a quick wrister past Lundqvist. With the win, Washington improves to 15-16-1, five points out of the Southeast Division and two out of a playoff spot. According to SportsClubStats, their chance of making the playoffs is now 34.7%.
What a roller coaster of a game. A furious first period with both teams exchanging two-goal bursts was followed by a lot more end-to-end action, rushes up ice, and excitement between two desperate teams. Though there were not a ton of shots in the game, both squads got chances in bunches and it was truly thrilling to watch these two teams leave it all on the ice during 65 minutes of fast-paced, electric hockey, especially in the third period and overtime. The Capitals got the extra point, a huge extra point, in the shootout, further plugging the idea that they can make the playoffs. Games like this are why hockey is the greatest game in the world; it was a spectacle.
Alex Ovechkin is some kind of hot right now, with his goal and point streak extended to five games. Another multi-point night for the Great Eight has the Caps’ captain inching closer to that coveted point-per-game pace that defines excellence for offensive players in the NHL. As friend of the blog Chris Gordon noted in this piece, the coaching of Adam Oates, at even strength but especially on the power play, has helped to reinvigorate Ovechkin by isolating him, removing him from traffic, and allowing him to finish - as was proven by his first two points on Sunday evening. He is in one of the patented hot streaks that have remained constant over the last three seasons despite his overall scoring decline, one of those that no one doubted that he could still put together. As has been said countless times in this space, the consistency of those streaks is what matters – and Oates may have just helped him find it. We will have to wait and see.
Braden Holtby had no chance on Asham’s goal but will want Stepan’s back as the New York forward’s pass from the corner went off the inside of his left pad and in to the back of the net. In the end, the Caps still got the two points, so it’s no harm, no foul especially because Holtby was absolute dynamite after that Stepan goal and helped win the Caps this game in crunch time. His 30 saves were the third time in the last four games he has made at least 30 stops, and his hot play has helped the Caps immensely in this streak. Dude is good.
Mike Green played another very solid game as he continues to work his way back to full strength after his latest groin injury. He was only plus-one in corsi, but made some very smart passes both on the breakout and in the offensive zone. He’s still not being used much on the power play, which seems odd, but that will come with time. Of course, it must be mentioned that Green’s pinch to try and put the death blow on the Rangers while up 2-0 in the first period led to Asham’s goal. That’s what it is with Green – you take the great with the bad. We know this.
A minor note here: Eric Fehr left the game in the second period with what is being deemed an upper-body injury. Fehr has been great for the team this year both in terms of possession and timely scoring; his loss would be a blow for the playoff push even though Wojtek Wolski is fully capable and waiting in the wings.
All in all, this was another great win for this team as they continue to try and piece together a playoff roster after their infusion of healthy players earlier this week. After a dominant start that was followed by a breakdown and a pushback from a good team at home, the Caps held firm and pushed back eventually on the way to two big points. With the trading deadline less than ten days away and the Caps seemingly within striking distance, it seems less likely that they will look to the future and sell, but that doesn’t mean people will stop talking about it.
Washington is at home against the Islanders Tuesday at 7 PM.
Harry Hawkings is a college student credentialed to cover the Capitals for RtR. Follow him on Twitter here for all your news needs this season.