"Just stop feeling sorry for ourselves," defenseman Karl Alzner said. "It's time to get real."
After being held scoreless for more than five full periods, dating to a 6-4 loss to the Philadelphia Flyers on Wednesday, the Capitals scored three times in a span of 5:02 of the third period for a 3-2 victory against the Coyotes on Saturday night at Verizon Center.
Troy Brouwer jammed a power-play rebound past Mike Smith for the game-winning goal with 5:13 remaining in regulation. Alzner and Brooks Laich also scored for Washington (30-25-10), which snapped an 0-2-1 slide and boosted its hopes in the Stanley Cup Playoff race.
The Capitals moved within one point of the idle Detroit Red Wings, who hold the second wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference. They are two points behind the New York Rangers for third place in the Metropolitan Division.
Washington paid the price for slow starts in losses to the Flyers on Wednesday and the Boston Bruins on Thursday. This time, they were able to dig themselves out of a two-goal hole.
"We've had a couple of starts in our last few games that haven't been acceptable on our terms," Brouwer said. "And going into the third it was the same story again. We need points. It's against a team in a different conference, but we still need points whether it's 20 minutes, 25 or a shootout, we need still need two points. We know that we're at a point where our season is on the line every single game and that should be enough motivation in here and it was [Saturday]."
Jaroslav Halak, acquired Wednesday from the Buffalo Sabres, made 31 saves in his Washington debut.
Phoenix (29-24-11), which kicked off a four-game Eastern Conference road trip, remained on the outside looking in at the Western Conference playoff picture.
"To win hockey games in this League, you have to pay the price to win them," coach Dave Tippett said. "In the critical times of the game we don't pay the price to win. We have that and some of the issues with taking bad penalties in the third period, and it has caught up with us."
After registering a season-low eight shots through 40 minutes in each of their previous two games, the Capitals pushed the pace in the early going and had nine shots in the first 11:07. However, Washington did not put a shot on goal during the final 8:53 of the period, and Phoenix took a 1-0 lead with 1:02 remaining.
With the Capitals in the midst of a line change, Keith Yandle collected a turnover in the neutral zone and sent a quick pass to Brandon McMillan, who outraced Mike Green and beat Halak with a wrist shot.
The goal was McMillan's first of the season, though he believed he had scored it several minutes earlier. At 12:11, he jammed the puck past Halak during a scrum in the crease, but the referees waved it off after it was ruled that McMillan pushed Halak's pad across the goal line.
The Coyotes made it 2-0 at 3:20 of the second period when Michael Stone's power-play point shot trickled through Halak's pads; Radim Vrbata pushed the loose puck over the goal line for his 18th of the season.
Phoenix dictated the flow of play throughout the second period and well into the third before Washington came alive.
"It seemed like we stopped playing the way we played in the first and the second [periods]," Vrbata said. "When you have a 2-0 lead going into the third, you have to find a way to win, and we didn't."
"We need the puck to find its way in all the time and that's such a good goalie over there," Alzner said of Smith, who finished with 30 saves. "At times it's frustrating when he makes some of the saves…and he comes up with pucks a lot of times that you don't really guess he's going to ever come up with. You've just got to throw them there and hope that one finds its way in and we're lucky that one kind of started a roll for us."
Brouwer's 18th goal of the season then gave the Capitals a much-needed victory.
The Coyotes continue their Eastern road swing on Monday against the Tampa Bay Lightning. The Capitals host the Pittsburgh Penguins on Monday in the first game of a home-and-home series.
Washington is expected to dress highly touted prospect and 2010 first-round draft pick Evgeny Kuznetsov, who signed an entry-level contract on Saturday afternoon.
"We don't want to put him in a situation that he can't handle right now, but in saying that, if we can spot him in the lineup it could be a nice spark for us," Capitals coach Adam Oates said. "He's a very talented man. I think he's big enough and he's got a good head on his shoulders, so we'll try to ease him in as slow as we can."