WASHINGTON -- For the second season in a row the Washington Capitals and Chicago Blackhawks delivered plenty of entertainment for a national television audience on the second Sunday in March.
And for the second time, the Capitals prevailed 4-3 in overtime as Mike Knuble scored with 1:09 left in the extra session at Verizon Center to give Washington its eighth straight victory.
Rookie center Marcus Johansson, who was sitting in the penalty box when Chicago forced overtime in the final minute of regulation, got the puck to Knuble at the top of the crease and he had time to drag it across to his forehand and flip it over Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford with Norris Trophy winner Duncan Keith trying to defend.
"You feel like somebody is there -- very rarely to do have time to pull it and turn and do all that," Knuble said. "You're waiting to get crosschecked, quite frankly, in the back, but you just try and execute the play and hope that it goes. It doesn't happen very often, but I think we had them spinning around a bit and there was a gap in coverage."
The win expands Washington's lead in the Southeast Division to five points and pulls the Capitals within one point of Philadelphia in the Eastern Conference. The Capitals, winners of the Presidents' Trophy a season ago, scuffled in the middle of this season with losses in 23 of 38 games, but could now mount a serious challenge to the Flyers for the top spot and No. 1 seed in the East.
"I don't want to think about [the No. 1 seed]," Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau said. "To me it is a nice feather in your cap and we got a nice trophy for winning the Presidents' [Trophy] last year, but in the end I don't care if we're first or eighth -- I got to believe the eight [seed] can beat the one. It has happened, I think.
"As long as we get in and we have a chance to go to that party, we'll give someone a tough go."
Chicago captain Jonathan Toews sent the game to overtime with a 6-on-4 goal with 38.5 seconds left in regulation. Johansson went to the box for hooking with 1:50 left to give the Blackhawks a power play. Keith's one-timer from the right point missed wide, but it came to Toews at the left post and his shot squeaked past a pair of diving Capitals -- defenseman Dennis Wideman and goalie Braden Holtby.
Capitals forward Brooks Laich broke a 2-2 tie a little more than six minutes into the third period. Eric Fehr outmuscled Keith behind the Blackhawks net and backhanded the puck to Laich between the hash marks for a one-timer and his 15th goal of the season.
"I just saw the puck come along the boards and I wanted to get good body position," Fehr said. "I took a look earlier to make sure someone was there, but I kind of threw a blind pass but luckily Brooks was there."
The Blackhawks have now lost three in a row after an eight-game winning streak had propelled them to fourth place in the Western Conference. Chicago remains only two points clear of ninth in the compacted West standings, but Toews may have stolen the Blackhawks a critical point with his last-minute tally.
"We'll take the point. We weren't very good today," Chicago coach Joel Quenneville said. "They played well. They played hard. I thought we had a little delay in our game."
Added Toews: "When we get that chance to be back in the games, there's no reason to be satisfied with one point. That's two overtime losses in the last couple games and we can't be happy with just getting one point out of each of those games."
Nick Leddy gave Chicago an early lead with his third goal of the season. Marian Hossa skated toward the right corner of the offensive zone and spun away from Washington defenseman Karl Alzner to find Leddy at the top of the zone for a slap shot at 4:46 of the opening period.
Boyd Gordon answered with a shorthanded goal 85 seconds later. Patrick Sharp failed to keep the puck in the offensive zone during a Blackhawks power play, and Gordon tracked it down near the right circle at the other end and beat Crawford with a slap shot for his third of the season.
"Boyd Gordon scored a huge goal to kind of take the momentum back there," Knuble said. "We had taken some penalties and allowed them to get their confidence and game going."
Jason Arnott pushed Washington in front with power-play goal at 19:06 of the first. Wideman kept the puck in the zone at one point and eventually Alexander Semin fed it to Arnott at the other point for a shot that fooled Crawford after deflecting off a Blackhawks player in front of him.
It was Arnott's second goal since joining the Capitals at the trade deadline from New Jersey and his 15th of the season.
Tomas Kopecky leveled the score at two with a bad angle goal. The puck was below the goal line in the left corner when Kopecky directed it toward Holtby. He was unable to keep it out of the net and Kopecky had his 13th goal of the season at 3:09 of the second period.
"We need [points]," said Keith, who logged more than 30 minutes of ice time because Brian Campbell tried to play through a foot injury but only lasted into the middle of the second period, leaving Chicago with five defenseman. "To take some positives, we got the one point. We battled back to get it -- take that going into the next game and use that as motivation to get two points tomorrow [against San Jose at United Center]."
Washington, meanwhile, appears to be a club that has found its mojo again -- the Capitals put 42 shots on Crawford while limiting the Blackhawks to nine in the third period and none in the extra session.
Holtby made 27 saves and is 6-0-1 in his last seven appearances, and Michal Neuvirth is ready to play after missing time with an eye injury. New additions Arnott and Wideman have quickly become impact players. The third and fourth lines are contributing offensively.
Optimism is back in the nation's capital after months of inconsistency and frustration.
"I think we were overall carrying the play -- we played better than them," Boudreau said. "It might not happen the next time we play them and maybe they were tired from being on the road for eight or nine days but I think today we were the better team."