Before Thursday night’s Southeast Division tilt between the Capitals and Lightning, Washington Head Coach Dale Hunter called the game a “must-win” for the both teams.
Perhaps it’s not a stretch to say the Capitals managed to save their season in the final four minutes of the game before Alex Ovechkin capped off a thrilling comeback in overtime for a 3-2 win on home ice.
With 3:58 left in third and the Capitals trailing 2-1, the situation seemed before Dennis Wideman collected a failed clear in Tampa Bay’s end and found a wide open Marcus Johansson who went five hole to tie the game, perhaps keeping his team’s playoff hopes alive in the process.
With just 51 seconds remaining in overtime, Ovechkin sent the crowd into a frenzy when he one-timed a Dmitri Orlov pass into the back of the net for his 27th of the season, undoubtedly the most important to date.
The Capitals took a 1-0 lead in the first after Keith Aucoin tipped a Karl Alzner shot from the point past journeyman Dustin Tokarski, who last started in the NHL two seasons ago.
The Lightning came back and scored two power play goals in the second to jump ahead 2-1. Dennis Wideman, who has been going through a brutal stretch on the defensive end (never good when you’re a defenseman) took a boarding penalty and it didn’t take long for Steven Stamkos to find Ryan Malone, who completely eluded Capitals defenseman John Carlson for a redirection off his skate and in.
Teddy Purcell then beat Vokoun from the slot for his 20th of the season, and while the Lightning were surging in the second period, Washington’s offensive engine sputtered to a dead stop, registering just three shots on goal.
While Hunter refused to divulge what he told his team after second, several players alluded to a speech that seemed to make a difference, including defenseman Karl Alzner.
“His message was just to man up. Play hard and play as a team,”Alzner said. “He yelled at us pretty much for one of the first times that he has ever yelled at us and the guys just snapped out of it.”
One play that didn’t get called for a penalty in the second (but perhaps should have) and is likely to make waves in the coming days was Mike Green’s hit on right wing Brett Connolly. Green appeared to have caught Connolly up high with an elbow into the boards and sent him sprawling to the ice before being helped off slowly. Connolly would return for the third.
“I saw it. The league has to look at that. It’s right at the head,” Tampa Bay Head Coach Guy Boucher said.
The Lightning dodged an early bullet in the third with the Capitals on the power play when Brooks Laich fanned on an empty net chance which would have tied the game. Things went that way for a while as Tampa Bay sat back in its 1-3-1 trap and allowed the Capitals to attack in waves in the third.
They outshot the Lightning 11-0 during one stretch but were unable to make any of it count until Johansson finally broke through.
After failing to convert multiple scoring chances in the overtime frame, Ovechkin finally solved Tokarski for his second overtime winner of the home stand.
We can’t always try to make the nice plays. I think everybody here got a wakeup call, and everybody worked as hard as the other guy,” Johansson said.