The Washington Capitals carried a three game win streak into Tuesday night’s contest against the Calgary Flames, who had lost three straight road games and were dealing with several key injuries.
The matchup at Verizon Center represented a golden opportunity for the Capitals to put together their longest win streak since they won seven straight to begin the season and continue to build confidence under Dale Hunter. They took advantage, riding the performances of Nicklas Backstrom, Tomas Vokoun and Alex Ovechkin to a 3-1 win.
“We feel pretty comfortable right now and we played a solid game,” Ovechkin said. “Our goalie played unbelievable.”
On a night where the return of puck-moving defenseman Mike Green was one of the headlines, twp of the other “young guns” carried the offensive load. Backstrom collected three assists and Ovechkin notched another goal and an assist, giving him nine goals in his last eight and four straight multi-point games.
Less than a minute into the game, Flames forward Rene Bourque was whistled for holding in the Capitals’ end to give the Capitals a man advantage. Shortly after, Ovechkin, the NHL’s second star of the week last week, collected a pass from Marcus Johansson and buried a one-timer, continuing his recent scoring rampage to spot the Capitals an early 1-0 lead.
“We just want to win every game and this is too good of a group to be in the middle,” Ovechkin said. “We just want to be in the playoffs.”
The score remained the same until the middle of the second when the Capitals converted their second power play opportunity of the night. This time it was Troy Brouwer, who collected an Ovechkin rebound in the heart of Miikka Kiprusoff’s crease and powered home the loose puck for his 11th of the season.
The Flames, though, hung around, generating several quality scoring opportunities in the second. They finally cashed in when Curtis Glencross eluded Capitals defenseman John Carlson and potted his 16th of the season on a centering pass from Jarome Iginla.
But just as they appeared to be gaining momentum, Dennis Wideman, who’s on a tear of his own, put the Capitals back ahead by two. Center Marcus Johansson (two assists) gained entry into Calgary’s zone by splitting a pair of defensemen which led to Backstrom collecting the puck in space. He found Wideman pinching up and hit him with a centering pass for a one-timer that beat Kiprusoff five-hole.
“(Backstrom’s) got such a good eye for the puck,” Johansson said. “It’s very fun to play with him. You can get the puck anytime…I gave a simple pass to him and he found me right back and opened everything up. Not a lot of guys can do that.”
The Flames did their best to even the score in the third, outshooting the Capitals 7-4 with several quality chances mixed in, only to be stonewalled by Vokoun. After going through a brutal stretch, Vokoun is now 4-0 with a 1.25 GAA and a .954 save percentage after stopping 18 of 19 Tuesday.
Wideman also has seven points in as many games and ranks fifth among defensemen in the NHL in points (26). Meanwhile, Backstrom vaulted to sixth in the league in points (42) with his effort.
The enthusiasm over Backstrom’s performance was dampened after the game with reports that the Center was being evaluated by team doctors after Borque elbowed him in the head in the third. The play earned Borque an elbowing minor and will likely be looked at by the league’s front office.
“We removed (Backstrom) from the game,” said Hunter. (Backstrom in fact took just one shift after the incident). “He was getting evaluated right now and we’ll know more tomorrow.”
Green, who’s return should alleviate some of the pressure on Wideman to produce points, wasn’t on ice for any goals in 15:43 but took two minor penalties. Hunter eased him back into the lineup after missing nearly two months with an injury, using seven defenseman in lieu of Alex Semin (upper body injury).
“(I need to) just get the rust out of my game,” Green said. “I’ll be back to normal soon, but it will take some time.”