Playing on the road is supposed to be difficult in the NHL, as is digging out of a two-goal hole. But the Caps have made both of those tasks seem much easier than they are in actuality early this season.
Braden Holtby's left pad save on Aaron Ekblad and Tom Wilson's overtime goal seconds later on the subsequent odd-man break enabled the Caps to come back from a 3-1 deficit for a 5-4 overtime win over the Panthers in Florida on Thursday night.
Video: Wilson scores twice, including game-winner in OT
Early in overtime, Ekblad broke in all alone on Holtby and tried to deke him, but the Caps goalie didn't bite on the move, thrusting his left pad out in denial. Kuznetsov quickly collected the puck and sent Carlson up the left side of the ice on a 2-on-1 with Wilson riding shotgun. Just after getting to the top of the circle, Carlson hit Wilson in stride, and the big winger put some air under his shot, getting it over Bobrovsky to send the Caps home with two points, just 17 seconds into the extra session.
"I was a little bit in awe for a second on the save that was made at our end," recounts Wilson. "Then I realized I had to get skating for the 2-on-1. John made a good play, and I Was lucky to capitalize on it."
Video: Caps Postgame Locker Room | November 7
Washington is now 8-1-1 in its 10 road games this season, and it has rebounded from a multi-goal deficit in a third of its dozen victories this season.
"We get off to a great start, and then we kind of let them back into the game with some errors," says Caps coach Todd Reirden. "But we stuck with it. I didn't like our first, but we got better as the game went on, and were obviously able to convert on our opportunities.
"It was obviously a crazy few seconds of overtime, from a phenomenal save by Holtby into a great goal by Tom Wilson."
Video: Todd Reirden Postgame | November 7
The Caps grabbed an early lead, scoring in the game's first half-minute. T.J. Oshie won a right dot draw in Florida ice, and eight seconds and a couple of passes later, John Carlson had his eighth goal of the season. Carlson redirected Michal Kempny's slap pass from the left point past Florida goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky for a 1-0 Washington lead just 25 seconds after the opening face-off.
Florida bounced back quickly, scoring on its first shot of the game before the game was two minutes old. When Caps defenseman Jonas Siegenthaler blew a tired just inside the Washington line, it left Frank Vatrano with a semi-breakaway, and he beat Holtby to tie the game at 1-1 at 1:55 of the first.
Washington wasn't able to do anything with an early power play, and the Panthers took control of the play soon after completing that kill. The Caps went more than 11 and a half minutes without a shot on net in the middle of the first, and in the meantime, old friend Brett Connolly bit the hand that once fed him, giving the Panthers their first lead of the game.
With Connolly parked at the top of the paint, Anton Stralman let go of a low, hard drive from the right point. Connolly got a piece of it, tipping it past Holtby for a 2-1 Florida lead at 14:26 of the first.
Florida wasted little time in adding to its lead in the second period. The Caps left Sasha Barkov unattended in the high slot, and Evgenii Dadonov found him with a perfect feed. Barkov's one-timer made it a 3-1 game just 27 seconds into the second.
Radko Gudas drew a slashing call on Florida's Brian Boyle, giving the Caps a second power play opportunity ahead of the first television timeout in the second, and this time Washington used a familiar formula to pull within a goal of the Cats. From the right circle, Evgeny Kuznetsov sold the idea of a shot to Bobrovsky, then put a perfect cross-ice feed on Alex Ovechkin's tape. The Caps' captain had an easy power-play goal from the office, a virtual empty-netter to make it a 3-2 game at 6:13.
Video: WSH@FLA: Kuznetsov sets up Ovechkin for PPG
Washington has rallied from a number of two-goal deficits this season, and the Caps knotted the score of this one just after the midpoint of the middle frame. For the second time in three goals, the Caps scored seconds after winning an offensive zone draw. This time, it was Nicklas Backstrom winning the puck to Dmitry Orlov, who put it on Ovechkin's stick. From high in the Florida zone, Ovechkin's shot found purchase behind Bobrovsky to make it a 3-3 at 12:14.
Video: WSH@FLA: Ovechkin scores with fortunate deflection
The Caps got into some penalty soup twice in the second period, and Florida had brief two-man advantages each time. Washington was able to skirt danger on the first pair of penalties, but the Cats regained the lead with a power-play goal late in the second when Jonathan Huberdeau made a precision pass to Dadonov, who whipped home a one-timer from in tight with 1:01 left in the second.
Washington's resilience came to the fore early in the third. Kuznetsov won a draw in Florida ice, and from the left half wall he issued a pass toward Wilson in the slot. Wilson chipped the pass over Bobrovsky's right shoulder to tie the game again, at 4-4, just 44 seconds into the third period.
Each team weathered a penalty killing mission in the third, and both goaltenders made some big stops to keep the score even, setting the stage for Holtby and Wilson's tag team heroics in overtime.
"I stopped for a second," says Wilson, "and there wasn't going to be much I was going to be able to do. Holts made an amazing save, and then I realized I had to get going the other way; we had a chance with an odd-man rush. That's the way 3-on-3 works, a guy comes up big for you, and then you can try and capitalize at the other end."
Video: WSH@FLA: Wilson nets Carlson's feed for OT winner