A bad bounce put the Caps down a goal in the first, and two good bounces gave them a 3-2 victory in the final minute of Wednesday night's preseason match with the St. Louis Blues at Capital One Arena.
Down 2-1 late in the third, the Caps went on the power play with 2:20 left after Robby Fabbri was deemed guilty of boarding Carl Hagelin. With the goaltender pulled for a 6-on-4 Washington advantage in manpower, Nicklas Backstrom put the puck on a tee for John Carlson, whose drive from just above the left circle missed wide left. The puck caromed hard and clean off the back wall, and quick-handed Richard Panik made a difficult play look easy, swooping it past Blues goalie Even Fitzpatrick to tie the game at 2-2 with exactly a minute left.
"The guys played really good up top," recounts Panik. "It was a great bounce, and I'm glad it went in."
Video: Capitals rally past Blues with two late goals
With the clock ticking down to the single digits, Backstrom carried through neutral ice and casually lofted the puck netward. The disc took a funky hop and zipped past a stunned Fitzpatrick with 6.9 seconds left, canceling what had seemed to be an imminent overtime, and giving the Caps their second victory in as many exhibitions.
"I thought we did some good things, and it was good at the end," says Caps coach Todd Reirden. "You don't always get game situations like that where you have a power play at the end, and then you've got to pull your goalie. Sometimes they don't even present themselves in preseason.
"So it's been good that the first game we had some overtime, and now we had a 6-on-4 situation. It was really good from that standpoint."
St. Louis struck first, jumping out to a 1-0 lead on a fluky goal in the first frame. Fabbri rolled the puck behind the Washington net, and Caps defenseman Martin Fehervary wasn't able settle and control it. Austin Poganski got it and tried a centering feed, which bounded off Brett Leason's skate and into the net for a 1-0 Blues lead at 13:37.
The Caps forced Blues goalie Jordan Binnington to make some good saves in the first half of the contest, but Washington broke through for the equalizer just ahead of the midpoint of the second.
Video: Postgame Locker Room | September 18
The Capitals' fourth line put together a good forechecking shift against several of St. Louis' top players, and Washington was able to get a change to its top unit while the Blues were hemmed. Alex Ovechkin put a high wrist shot on net - one of the captain's nine shots on goal on the evening - from above the left circle, and Binnington made the save. Leason went for the rebound, but St. Louis blueliner Vince Dunn jammed him up, preventing him from pulling the trigger. That's when an opportunistic Radko Gudas jumped up and buried the loose puck into a yawning cage, squaring the score at 7:15 of the middle frame. All five Blues had been on the ice for more than a minute when the red light went on.
After just over 30 minutes of impressive netminding, Vitek Vanecek yielded the crease to Ilya Samsonov. Vanecek stopped 13 of 14, and Samsonov would have a bit of a baptism by fire as the Caps ran into some penalty woes. The Blues had a two-man advantage for 65 seconds, but Samsonov stopped a big center point drive from Colton Parayko, the biggest threat of that stretch.
Binnington gave way to Fitzpatrick at the outset of the third.
Video: Todd Reirden Postgame | September 18
Early in the third, ex-Cap Zach Sanford scored a power play goal with a strong individual effort, cutting out of the right-wing corner straight to the net, and tucking the puck into the short side corner with a precision wrister at 2:05. That goal restored the St. Louis lead at 2-1.
The two sides traded power play chances in the third, giving Panik the chance to tie it and setting the stage for Backstrom's whacky winner.
"You want to win; we all want to win," says Blues coach Craig Berube. "It's unfortunate. I thought our guys were doing a good job killing that penalty, and it goes off the back end, right to the guy, and he puts it in.
"It's two unfortunate bounces, I guess, is the way you put it. But overall, we're pretty pleased. I think our guys played against a pretty good lineup over there tonight, and they competed hard."