It was a bit of déjà vu all over again for the Caps on Saturday night, as they let a two-goal lead slip away in a 3-2 overtime loss to the Carolina Hurricanes. Jake Gardiner scored his first goal as a member of the Canes at 4:04 of the extra session, Carolina's third unanswered goal after Washington carried a 2-0 lead into the third period.
Braden Holtby turned in a strong performance, keeping the Canes at bay early and making a series of stellar stops throughout. Washington was undone by its inability to generate anything in the way of high danger scoring chances with the extra man in the first three frames, going 0-for-6 on the night.
The Caps had one last good chance to pull a second point when they went on a 4-on-3 power play early in overtime, and they narrowly missed lighting the lamp when an Alex Ovechkin shot hit the near post and skirted the goal line, but did not cross. The Caps had more zone time on that 4-on-3 power play than on any of the prior 5-on-4 advantages.
"We scored a couple of power-play goals early in a couple of games," says Caps coach Todd Reirden, "but you can't go 0-for-6 and then expect to have the outcome you want. I thought their penalty kill worked extremely hard, and were able to come up with more puck battles than we were, and our entries weren't clean."
Early in the first period, Holtby stopped three Carolina shots in a span of 35 seconds, all of them coming from 25 feet or closer. The last of that trio was a breakaway stop on Martin Necas. Just past the midpoint of the first, Holtby made another stellar stop on a Sebastian Aho breakaway, just after Carolina completed its first penalty killing mission of the night.
Meanwhile, Washington wasn't able to generate much in the way of offensive zone time, shots on net or scoring chances until the late stages of the first. But they were able to grab the lead before the first intermission.
The Caps' fourth line got in on the forecheck, forcing a bad exchange between two Carolina newcomers, Joel Edmundson and Erik Haula. Brendan Leipsic's presence forced the turnover, and he bumped it to linemate Garnet Hathaway, who beat Carolina goalie James Reimer in a 1-on-1 situation at 17:23 of the first, tucking the puck into the top far corner of the cage.
Washington spent more than six minutes with the man advantage in the second, but the Caps weren't able to add to their lead in that fashion. They did double their lead on a funky goal just after the midpoint of the middle period.
Radko Gudas started a breakout, sending Jakub Vrana down the left wing side into Carolina ice. From the left half wall, Vrana put the puck toward the net, where T.J. Oshie was heading. The puck popped up high, and Reimer seemed unaware of its exact whereabouts. Oshie banged it in at 11:40, though a video review was needed to confirm that it had crossed the goal line.
Hathaway had another goal called back late in the second after the Canes issued a successful challenge for goaltender interference. Video replay determined that Leipsic bumped Reimer on a drive-by, keeping the score at 2-0. Carolina gained some momentum from that call, and more Holtby heroics were needed to preserve the two-goal cushion.
Holtby beat Aho again in a one-on-one situation late in the second period, then he denied Warren Foegele on a timing play from just above the crease seconds later. Those saves enabled the Caps to take that 2-0 lead to the third, but their inability to add to the lead ultimately doomed them.
The penalty pendulum swung towards Carolina in the third, and the Canes halved the Caps' lead when Washington couldn't clear the zone on the penalty kill early in the frame. The Hurricanes snapped the puck around sharply with a series of precision passes, culminating with an Erik Haula goal from the top of the paint at 2:36.
Reimer was strong in his own right, and the Canes didn't give Washington much in the way of chances from the middle of the ice. Playing his first game with Carolina, Reimer turned aside a John Carlson wrist shot from the slot just ahead of the midpoint of the period, one of those rare Washington opportunities from the middle of the sheet.
But Carolina tore up ice on a 4-on-2 rush immediately after Reimer set that shot aside. Foegele made a nifty backhand feed to defenseman Jaccob Slavin driving the center lane all alone, and Slavin beat Holtby in the 1-on-1 situation to tie the game at 1-1 at 9:50.
Reimer set aside six Washington shots in overtime before Gardiner called his own number on a 2-on-1 rush, beating Holtby on the short side.
"I saw there was a guy trailing," says Gardiner, "and I had to make a decision on whether I was going to pass or shoot. I had a pretty good angle at it, and I thought it was the right decision."
Just as they did in Game 7 of their first-round playoff series against Washington last spring, the Canes rallied from two goals down to win in overtime.
"We weren't playing a poor game," says Carolina coach Rod Brind'Amour. "We were pretty solid. We had a couple of bad breaks there, and the guys just hung in there and obviously some huge kills in this game. That was the story of the game for me."