With 20 minutes remaining in Sunday’s matinee with the Ottawa Senators, it looked like the Washington Capitals would be stifled again by good goaltending and solid defense.
But in the third period, the Caps finally broke free, scoring three unanswered goals en route to a 3-1 win over the Senators.
“This year it seems like we are going to the 30-40 minute mark before we score,” forward Brooks Laich said. “Tonight it’s even further, but once we get one, the crowd gets into it and the guys start rolling and Carly [John Carlson] makes a great shot and Chimmer [Jason Chimera] makes a great shot and we end up with a 3-1 win.”
It was a goal by Laich at 7:15 of the third period that ignited the Caps’ offense. Laich picked up an errant pass by Senators defenseman Chris Phillips in the slot and beat goaltender Brian Elliot to tie the game at 1-1.
Less than a minute later, the Capitals drew a power play. Nicklas Backstrom won the faceoff back to John Carlson, who buzzed a slap shot past Elliot, giving Washington a lead they would never lose.
“It was a beautiful goal by [Laich],” Carlson said. “It kind of gave us a little bit of a jump in our step, and it brought back those good memories when we were scoring goals and it helped us out.”
Jason Chimera added a goal later in the period — one he said a goalie stops “nine times out of ten” — and despite two periods of frustrating misses, the Washington offense came alive and took control of the game.
“It’s vital mentally, to get a couple of goals for themselves,” head coach Bruce Boudreau said. “It’s not from lack of effort. Ottawa was tremendous after two periods in not allowing hardly anything. You keep doing the same thing over and over and eventually, we broke through.”
Without terrific play by goaltender Michal Neuvirth (22 saves) and an all-around solid defensive effort, Washington may not have had a chance to come back had the lead been two or three goals.
“He was great,” said Boudreau. “I knew he’d be real good tonight. I just knew it, he’s been waiting. He’s beat Ottawa three times, and he feels good against them.”
Added Laich: “Our defense did a good job clearing pucks after [the first Ottawa goal], not giving any second opportunities and Neuvy held the fort.”
Neuvirth’s strong play in net and the third period breakthrough ended their three-game losing streak, putting the Caps back in the win column for the first time since beating the Panthers on Jan 8th.
With the Eastern Conference so close – just 11 points separate first from ninth – every win and every point is extremely important, especially with the team heading on the road for 9 of the next 14 games.
“I think it’s important when you look at the teams behind us,” Boudreau said. “You want to put some distance between yourself and the rest of the group. Our conference is going to be a dogfight all the way, so you need every two points you can get.”