“It’s a big win,” Capitals Head Coach Dale Hunter said.
And he’s right as the Caps were less than four minutes away from completely blowing a five game homestand and seeing their playoff hopes all but disappear. But Dennis Wideman reached for the puck just enough to get it over to a wide open Marcus Johansson who beat rookie Dustin Tokarski to tie the game up with 3:58 left in the third. The great eight then showed up in overtime with 51 seconds left as he got a perfect pass from Dmitry Orlov and rocketed one by Tokarski, who was making his first NHL start, and give the Caps a much needed 3-2 overtime win and a huge two points that vault them right back in the middle of the playoff race.
“It was tough,” Caps forward Marcus Johansson said. “All of us in here knew we had to do it and we knew we had to do it together. The third period was a really good period from us. We played one of the best periods we have played in a long time and it was good to see that we could turn it around as a team.”
The third period was the key for the Caps as they struggled in the second period, only had three shots all of the second period, and came out firing after a strong intermission speech by Head Coach Dale Hunter.
“His message was basically just to man up,” Defenseman Karl Alzner said. “Play hard and play as a team. We had a lot of one-on-one play and a lot of turnovers. It was one of the ‘keys’ that we had on the board, was no turnovers. He yelled at us pretty much for one of the first times that he has ever yelled at us and the guys just snapped out of it.”
A few expletives were also used, but it worked. A desperate Caps team came out in the third and put twelve shots on the board to only three for the Lightning. In fact, including overtime, the last 24:09 of the game, the Caps out shot the Lightning 16-3.
“They [Lightning] were playing their 1-3-1 or 1-2-2 and we just had to get the pucks in deep and work,” Hunter said. “There’s not going to be the two-on-ones and three-on-twos where you can make pretty plays. We just had to get it in deep and work. It creates scoring chances.”
And it worked. The Caps completely dominated play for the final 24:09 and saved their season in doing so.
“We keep telling ourselves; we are lucky to be in it, but we are in it,” Alzner said. “We got to take advantage of these games against some division rivalries and teams that are close to us. It’s a nice feeling knowing that we are still right there.”
The Caps are right there, currently tied with Winnipeg with 72 points for the final playoff position, but Winnipeg plays in a late game tonight in Vancouver. The Caps are also two points behind Florida for tops in the Southeast Division, but Florida has a game in hand.
Former Panthers goalie Tomas Vokoun came up huge tonight for the Caps. It was his first game since February 22nd and played terrific. Both goals he gave up were on the penalty kill and he was laid out to dry on the first one and Caps defenseman John Carlson accidentally kicked in the second one. Vokoun had 24 saves on the night.
“I feel pretty good,” Vokoun said. “It was good they got some shots on me early in the first period and I tried to settle in. But I haven’t played for a while, but it’s nice to get the win.”
The Caps were first on the board for the second game in a row when Keith Aucoin backhanded deflected a Karl Alzner shot that squeeked behind Tokarski. It was a pretty wild play, but it gave the Caps a much needed early lead, that for the second game in a row they saw disappear, but tonight they came back to win, unlike Tuesday’s overtime loss to Carolina.
“We knew that if we could get two points tonight it puts us in a good spot to contend for a playoff spot here,” Caps forward Troy Brouwer said. “If we weren’t able to pick up these two points, we’d be on the outside looking in and in a real tough place to get back in.”
The Caps end up 2-2-1 on their five game homestand, both wins came off of Alex Ovechkin overtime goals, and now have six of their next seven on the road including their next game Saturday in Boston. These next seven games will most likely decide the Caps fate this season as they only have 14 total games left. One player they might be without though is Mike Green who hit Lightning forward Brett Connolly into the boards with his elbow. Most likely it will be brought in front of league disciplinarian Brendan Shanahan and since Green is a repeat offender, it could be a suspension. With or without Green, this team needs to win some big road games coming up and tonight could be a big momentum boost.
“We can savor this one here,” Brouwer said. “But we have to learn that we can’t keep putting ourselves in this position coming from behind.”
Listen here to what Dale Hunter, Alex Ovechkin, Brooks Laich, Troy Brouwer and Tomas Vokoun had to say following the win.
1st 17:08 Aucoin (2), Alzner (13), Halpern (11)
3rd 16:02 Johansson (13), Wideman (31)
OT 4:09 Ovechkin (27), Orlov (12), Chimera (16)
Dale Hunter Postgame Audio
Alex Ovechkin Postgame Audio
Brooks Laich Postgame Audio
Troy Brouwer Postgame Audio
Tomas Vokoun Postgame Audio