It was one of the more improbable comebacks in Washington Capitals’ history. Down 3-0 entering the third period today to one of the best lineups in hockey, and with the world’s best player banished from their lineup early on, the Caps summoned 20 of the gutsiest minutes of their season in Sunday’s final frame, knotting the game at 3 thanks to a stirring three minutes of overwhelming dominance, going on to prevail 4-3 in overtime before a suddenly sullen United Center sellout and a national television audience.
With the victory the Capitals reached and passed 100 points on the season in just their 69th game. More importantly, they passed a high-profile gut-check with resounding success, overcoming an opening 40 minutes of lethargic and uninspired play with a third period for the ages. They outshot the Blackhawks 11-1 in the final 20 minutes. In overtime, they triumphed on an end-to-end strike from their super Swede, Nicklas Backstrom.
But much of what is discussed about Sunday’s game will focus on yet another Alexander Ovechkin act of aggression. Ovechkin was ejected little more than midway through Sunday’s matinee for a boarding penalty against Brian Campbell.
“I don’t think it was a real good check. He just kind of fell, and it was a dangerous moment,” the Capitals’ captin said. “It was not a hard hit. I just wanted to push him,” Ovi added.
“I didn’t hit him hard. I pushed him, but he fell bad. It probably looks bad. I thought it was going to be two minutes, but the linesman came to me and said ‘Game over.'”
Here’s where some amazing luck arrives. Sunday marked Ovechkin’s 41st game since his last boarding penalty, and per league rules, any player who goes half a season without a repeat offense has his offender’s slate wiped clean. So Ovechkin will at least avoid an automatic suspension. League enforcement czar Colin Campbell, however, could review the play and impose a subsequent suspension on the left wing.
But it was a comeback to remember, and the OFB team reflected upon it with a few early St. Patty’s celebration sodas:
pucksandbooks: Three key achievements now seem to suggest a potentially historic hockey season in D.C.: the third period comeback from two goals down against the defending Stanley Cup Champion Penguins at Verizon Center on February 7; the team-best 14-game winning streak of mid-January into early February; and Sunday’s stunning three-goal, third period comeback in Chicago, against the Cup-contending Hawks.
It may be true that much of the national television viewing audience Sunday knew little of Nicklas Backstrom’s fast-rising standing as one of hockey’s most impressive talents. He became a good deal better known, however, based on his overtime heroics.
What was so notable about Backstrom’s game-winner was how close he came to earning game-goat status instead. He coughed up the puck near his own blueline at the end of his shift, and Troy Brouwer went in on Jose Theodore on a virtual breakaway. But Backstrom didn’t give up on the play, and his stick-check of Brouwer may have saved the game. That he gathered the puck in the far corner and proceeded to maneuver his way 200 feet around the through Hawks and scored unassisted made him Sunday’s first star.
Jason Chimera had I thought his best game as a Washington Capital. When the rest of his team seemed sheepish and shell-shocked at Ovechkin’s departure, Chimera skated his arse off, and made life difficult for Chicago’s defenders with regular bull-rushes from the outside. He showed me real leadership with Washington’s captain gone.
OrderedChaos: The Washington Post declared that Sunday’s matinee match-up “may be a preview of the Stanley Cup finals.” After the thrilling ending in Chicago today, NBC must be salivating at that prospect.
What a stunning comeback for the Washington Capitals — a team-defining victory on a national stage. The Caps managed to play just 20-something minutes of good hockey, yet came away with two points, passing the 100-point mark with 13 games remaining. Mind you, their opponent was no cellar-dweller either, but rather the class of the West.
Alex Ovechkin’s early ejection clearly rattled the team (the call, borderline in even Mike Milbury’s opinion, is what it is). Bruce Boudreau and his charges were slow to adapt, though to be fair, losing Ovi isn’t an easy mid-game adjustment. By the third period, though, the team had mustered an impressive momentum that seemed to shock the suddenly reeling ‘Hawks.
Nicklas Backstrom sealed the win by proving (again) that he’s among the best in the league. His initial fumble at the blueline he swiftly remedied with an impressive backcheck, then finally an end-to-end rush that yielded the game-winning goal. He quarterbacked the 3-on-2 break to perfection, calmly coordinating the rush while speeding up the ice. I’ve watched the sequence several times, and his finishing move at the end is one of the prettiest goals of the year. But the play taken as a whole? Even better.
Since the Olympic break, it’s safe to say that the Cardiac Caps are back. Sure, the team sometimes lets an advantage slip through its fingers, but at the same time no opponent’s lead is safe — and more often than not, it’s the Caps leaping in celebration at the end of each roller-coaster game.
Gary: These are not your father’s Caps. Heck, these aren’t even your Caps from just a couple years ago. There was a time when you would throw in the towel down two or three goals — like with pre-lockout NHL hockey. Not so any more. The Caps are seemingly especially dangerous falling behind by multiple goals deep into games. Even without the two-time MVP, this team is able to roll through three goals in under three minutes to tie a game and then put it away in OT. Once it puts its collective mind to it this team is dominant, with an exciting style and fast-paced tempo. These are the days you’ll tell your kids and grandkids about (while sounding like that crazy old man/woman).
DC Sports Chick: It’s too bad that today’s game will be overshadowed by all the outrage over Ovechkin’s hit on Campbell, because it truly was a contest for the ages. I was in the car this afternoon and couldn’t see it, but I was able to get the Chicago feed of the game via satellite radio. It made me remember games from not so long ago when the Caps would have the lead and other teams would battle back to win it, on a seemingly regular basis. It’s encouraging that the Caps are now the ones to turn the game around in their favor; the win is even more of a statement that they can get it done without their star player. Today’s game was a sign of positive growth for the team and tells the world that they’re heading in the right direction.
Alex: Chicago is an equal among top teams in the league, and their first two periods had me worrying about what might happen in a post-season matchup in June. But then I saw that teams as good as Chicago (and Washington) can struggle at any given time in a game. The Hawks’ stifling every Caps breakout attempt and puck possession in the first two periods were intimidating . . . as were the referees’ early calls, but Washington’s active defense and composed forwards in the third period and OT helped DC overcome the greatest of challenges, being down 0-3 going into the third period to a top-3 team in the NHL. Goaltending wasn’t too shabby, either.
The Capitals continue on the road this week with three games in the Southeast. Those games, much like the ones they faced against division foes at home last week, present potential problems with incentives almost as small as the crowds watching them will be. It was interesting for us this weekend to hear Mike Knuble point to meaningful games among the team’s final 14 in the schedule and point to showdowns with Chicago, Pittsburgh, and Boston while not mention any from the Southeast.
Knuble on playing out the string and developing urgency: “There is not much talk about the Presidents Trophy. It is more about your overall play, you are not going to worry so much about your record. The good thing is we are going to be made to rise to a challenge. We are going to see Pittsburgh twice, Chicago and Boston, who is trying to get into the playoffs. We are going to see five or six games where you have got to play playoff caliber hockey . . . or you will get run over. It is here, it is in the room, we are not grasping at air. We just have to come out and play stronger and [there has got to be] more urgency. We have to realize the playoffs are coming and you just don’t flip the switch once the playoffs come.”