The New Jersey Devils started their historic road-and-road series with a win against the Washington Capitals Thursday night. They’ll look for a sweep today at Verizon Center as the Devils and Capitals square off in the rubber match of the series.
Johan Hedberg will start for the Devils. He suffered his first loss of the season against the New York Islanders last Sunday, allowing all five goals in a 5-1 loss.
Braden Holtby will start his sixth straight game for the Capitals. He allowed three goals on 37 shots in Thursday night’s loss.
Washington jumped out to the lead Thursday night, opening the scoring with a power-play goal in the second period. Troy Brouwer carried the puck through the neutral zone, cutting through the Devils defense and sending a wrist shot on Martin Brodeur from the slot. The Devils goalie stopped his chance, but couldn’t recover to deny Matthieu Perrault. The Capitals forward whacked the puck into an open net for his second goal of the season.
Patrik Elias tied the game, scoring New Jersey’s third shorthanded goal of the season just two minutes later. Adam Henrique started the play, stripping Capitals defenseman John Carlson of the puck behind his own net. Henrique found Elias with a pass to the side boards, and the Devils left wing sent it right back to Henrique. He moved out from behind the net, sending a pass across the crease to a cutting Elias. He put it by Holtby for his fifth goal of the season.
The Capitals would respond, netting its second power-play goal of the period over a minute later. Brouwer held the puck in the right circle, sending a pass to Mike Ribeiro in the slot. He kicked the puck from his skate to his stick before firing a shot that found its way through the pads of Brodeur.
But the Capitals, coached by former Devils assistant Adam Oates, couldn’t shut down New Jersey. Elias and company saw the flaws in Washington’s system.
“You can sense, you know, there’s a certain place over there that they’re still hesitant,” he told Katie Carrera of the Washington Post. “And I’m sure that they work on it, they look at it, a lot of videos. And that helps. But it’s up to the guys to really, really kind of buckle down and just pay the price. Sometimes it’s not easy and sometimes you think that individual stats might go out of it. But you look at it: If you play that way and you really believe in that system, you get rewarded.”
New Jersey took advantage, tying the game on Andrei Loktionov’s first goal as a Devil at 9:19 of the third period. He won an offensive zone faceoff against Ribeiro, sending the puck back to Adam Larsson. The Devils defenseman held the puck before sending a shot on Holtby from the point. The Capitals goalie made the save, but kicked the rebound out to Loktionov on the left post. He didn’t miss, shooting into the open net to tie the game, 2-2.
Ilya Kovalchuk scored the game-winning on a 5-on-3 power-play in the final period. Elias held the puck in the right circle before sending a pass to Kovalchuk. The Devils right wing one-timed the feed past Holtby for his sixth goal of the season.
It was also the second time Kovalchuk scored the game-winning goal against the Capitals this season. He beat Michael Neuvirth in overtime on January 25, sending the Devils to a 3-2 win at the Prudential Center. He has five career game-winning goals against Washington.
Devils head coach Pete DeBoer acknowledged the win wasn’t a pretty one, but was happy his team found a way to grind out a victory.
“We found a way to win and that’s the bottom line. With the circumstances you’re dealing with, I know I keep alluding to it, the shortened schedule, the travel, fatigue, it’s not going to be text book hockey every night,” he told Tom Gulitti of The Bergen Record. “And you can’t get frustrated when it doesn’t go well all the time. I think that’s the biggest thing. I really liked our bench last night. There were some moments there where we could have gotten really frustrated when we had power plays and didn’t convert and we didn’t score early in the game when we felt we should have had a lead.
“But we stuck with it and found a way to win. And the resiliency of the group has probably been the most impressive thing.”
The loss dropped the Capitals to a league-worst 5-10-1.
The two teams wrap up the season series this afternoon. New Jersey has won five straight games against Washington. They’re last loss to the Capitals came on November 11, a 3-1 defeat.