These were two points the Caps had to have and they got them, but not without the usual drama that has accompanied most of their wins in the second half of the season. The home team squandered a two-goal third period lead before Mike Green buried the game winner to give his squad a 4-3 victory over the Canucks on Friday night.
The Caps host the Maple Leafs this Sunday before embarking on a daunting three-game west coast swing against three quality teams, a road trip that could help further define the Caps already precarious playoff chances.
Perhaps the most exciting development tonight was the coming out party for Evgeny Kuznetsov who earned the first star of the game with his three assist performance and in the process gained the first three points of his young NHL career. Kuznetsov, who some Caps fans have nicknamed “the Unicorn” for his mythical status in recent years while living in a far away land, flashed some of the puck handling talent that has made him a star in the KHL. He assisted on goals by Alex Ovechkin and Tom Wilson in the second period, as well as the Mike Green game-winner. His cross ice assist to Wilson was particularly impressive and signaled that he has the vision to be a consistent offensive contributor on this team.
The first period action was more of the same for the defensively challenged Caps with the puck spending most of its time in the Caps’ end while the Canucks dominated the time of possession. The Caps were fortunate to get to the first break with the game tied at one. In the second the Caps pulled ahead by two with a power play rifle shot from Ovechkin, his 45th of the season, and a nifty wrist shot by Wilson off the feed from Kuznetsov. Kuznetsov saw action tonight not just on the fourth line but also with the Caps’ tops skaters and was given minutes on the power play as well.
But the Caps’ altruistic nature was in full view in the final stanza as they squandered their two goal advantage before the period was eight minutes old. The Caps defense continuously got pinned in their own zone and watched as the Canucks found open men in the crease who buried the puck in the net. Momentum had swung and it seemed that the home fans might go home disappointed.
Up stepped Mike Green, he of the nickname “Game-Over”, who slammed the door when he scored on a slapshot off a feed from Nicklas Backstrom from behind the net. The Caps had their two points and their slow climb to the eighth playoff spot continued. The Caps now stand one point out of the final playoff spot, but have played more games than the teams ahead of them and would lose a tiebreaker against any of them.
Regardless of where the Caps finish in the standings, however, this night will be remembered as the night the Unicorn made his presence known in the league. Hopefully this is just the beginning.