Caps Push Win Streak to Eight

The Washington Capitals pushed their season-long winning streak to eight games riveting 4-3 overtime victory over the Chicago Blackhawks Sunday afternoon at the Verizon Center. The Capitals had beaten several non-contenders on their recent run, but they passed Sunday’s test with flying colors and entertained the fans along the way.

“It was a huge game out there,” Capitals winger Jason Chimera said. “It felt like a playoff atmosphere. It was one of the best games I’ve been a part of. It was a great game to watch, I’m sure the fans had a great time watching it. It was a fun game to be a part of.”

The Blackhawks came out strong early and Nick Leddy put them ahead 1-0 on a slapshot less than five minutes into the first. But less than two minutes later Boyd Gordon turned the tide for the Capitals. With the Blackhawks on the power play, he beat Corey Crawford cleanly with a slapshot to even the score.

In the last minute of the first Jason Arnott put the Capitals ahead with a late power play goal. The deadline acquisition ripped a shot from the point through traffic with Alex Ovechkin and Brooks Laich in front which found its way through everyone. The deadline acquisition continues to surpass anyone’s wildest expectations and has revitalized the entire offense.

However, Tomas Kopecky pulled the Blackhawks even early in the second when he shot the put from along Caps goalie Braden Holtby’s redline but somehow snuck it through the rookie goaltender. Perhaps Holtby was guilty of playing the pass. Whatever the reason, he allowed the puck to bank off the back of his pads and into the net.

Both teams traded chances throughout the rest of the second. The game had a furious pace, flying from end-to-end. The middle frame ended with a fight between Chimera and Brent Seabrook after Chimera skated through Crawford’s crease and caused a stir in the Blackhawks’ end.

Brooks Laich broke the tie in the third when he buried a backhand centering feed from Eric Fehr. The Fehr-Laich-Hendricks line was buzzing around the net all afternoon and were finally rewarded with a goal.

“You hope that if you keep doing things right you’re going to get rewarded,” Laich said. “Hendy makes a good play in the neutral zone to force a turnover and then we just get it in deep. Eric wins a battle against a smaller defenseman in [Chicago’s Duncan] Keith, and gets the puck out front and we get a goal.”

The Blackhawks used a late power play to tie the game with under a minute remaining. With Marcus Johansson in the box for hooking and the Crawford on the bench for the extra skater, Jonathan Toews put home a shot that caromed off the end boards and found Holtby scrambling to send the game to overtime.

Mike Knuble turned out to be the hero. The veteran forward received a pass from Johansson with time and space in front of Crawford and deftly stickhandled the puck past the netminder to give the Capitals the win.

Just over two weeks ago, the Rangers walked into Verizon Center and pounded the Capitals 6-0 just three days before the trading deadline. It was clear that the team needed a shakeup. So GM George McPhee went out and acquired Arnott, Dennis Wideman and Marco Sturm. Now the team has won eight straight, thanks largely to a balanced attack that hadn’t been present all season.

“All four lines were going,” said Caps coach Bruce Boudreau. “You’ll see me shorten the bench pretty easily if I deem that certain players or certain lines aren’t going, but lately, it’s been hard. You get those sheets at the end and you look and the minutes are all equal because they’re all contributing. It’s a nice thing to see. That’s why you win, because everybody contributes.”

As horrible as the Capitals looked that Friday night in getting shutout by the Rangers on home ice, this team appears to have undergone a transformation. Even with Mike Green and Nicklas Backstrom out, the Caps have three scoring lines that can chip in offensively and a strong grinder line. They also have a deep defensive corps that displays the type of discipline the team lacked for much of last season.

“Guys have a bit of a swagger right now, back to the way things were,” Holtby said.

Odds and Ends:

– Fehr’s return to the lineup has already paid immediate dividends and gave the Caps a legitimate third-line with scoring capability with Backstrom out of the lineup Monday. Laich is perfectly suited for a third line on a Stanley Cup contender, and once Backstrom returns, a unit with Fehr and Laich on the wings and Johansson at center may be in order.

– Nothing against Backstrom, because he clearly hadn’t been 100 percent for a while, but since taking his place this week centering the top line, Johansson has brought an explosive element that the unit hadn’t displayed all year. His speed, coupled with Ovechkin’s resurgence, has made that line a constant threat to score in transition.

– It remains to be seen whether Alex Semin is merely going through another one of his hot streaks or whether the inspired brand of hockey he’s been playing lately is here to stay. What’s clear is that the Capitals are a much more formidable team when he’s on his game, and today he was a once again a threat every time he touched the puck.

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