A team that has aspirations of winning the Stanley Cup in June celebrated in championship-caliber fashion on Sunday night after getting a gorilla off its back.
Mathieu Perreault scored a pair of goals in the second period and the Washington Capitals rallied from a 2-0 deficit to beat the Ottawa Senators 3-2 at Scotiabank Place, ending their eight-game losing streak and in the process reclaiming first place in the Southeast Division.
The Senators had a late power play that failed and pulled goalie Brian Elliott in the final minute for an extra attacker. After the Capitals held off their final surge and the horn sounded, the players streamed off the bench and mobbed goalie Michal Neuvirth, who made 24 saves.
"We felt like we won a championship," said Perreault, who had his second multi-goal game since being recalled from AHL Hershey. "We needed that win so much for our confidence and just for the team. That was a huge win for us."
Perreault and Eric Fehr each tallied in the first 80 seconds of the middle period and then Perreault connected again at 6:55 for the decisive goal. The offensive eruption came after the Capitals managed just 11 goals during an 0-6-2 stretch that saw them briefly fall into third in the division after both the Thrashers and Lightning won on Saturday.
"In the sense that we'll be able to sleep tonight I think it was a big win," coach Bruce Boudreau said. "And as a coach, just looking at the players' faces and seeing them happy instead of grinding and everything it's a huge win, but in the end it's one win out of nine. It's a relief for us but it's not like we're out of the woods."
Still, it was a gritty effort after the Senators jumped out early on goals by Ryan Shannon and Chris Kelly. The Capitals also had a goal disallowed at the end of the first period when Fehr was unable to get the puck past Elliott prior to time expiring.
"We knew we had to win that game," Perreault said. "After the first period we all regrouped and said, 'OK guys, this has got to be our best period of the year.' And I think that's what we did."
It took all of 34 seconds after they took the ice in the second for the Capitals to cut the Senators' lead in half. Perreault's first goal brought immediate life to the players on the bench, and shortly after it was Fehr getting a goal that did count, knotting the score and letting Ottawa know it was in for a battle.
"We got the start we wanted, they got some good breaks early in the second and that's five minutes we would like to have back, but that's the way it goes," Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson said.
Milan Michalek was sent off for high-sticking at 5:33 and Fehr set up Perreault on the ensuing power play as the Capitals went in front to stay.
"When you get two points you're just happy like a kid," said captain Alex Ovechkin, who got his team-leading 26th assist and 38th point on Fehr's second-period goal. "We just want to win so bad."
They later had another goal called back because Ovechkin made a distinct kicking motion in sending the rebound of a Brooks Laich shot past Elliott. There was no dispute on Ovechkin's end.
"I kicked it," he said. "If it was in, it was in, I'll take it. Why not?"
Washington fell behind Boston 3-0 in the first period Saturday before storming back only to fall short in a 3-2 defeat, and Sunday's game appeared to be following a similar script when Shannon beat Neuvirth on a wrist shot at 7:11 and Kelly scored from the edge of the crease at 13:55, giving the home team a 2-0 lead.
In the end, however, the Capitals were living it up, the scene on the ice after the game sure to be a part of the upcoming episode of HBO Sports' "24/7" series on the Caps and Penguins leading up to the 2011 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic at Heinz Field on New Year's Day.
"I'm sure they know they're on TV and they've got a show going on so that's I'm sure a good reason," Alfredsson said of the post-game celebration.
Finally ending the eight-game slide might have been reason enough.