T.J. Oshie's tip-in tally with 2:04 left in the third period topped off another Caps comeback, giving Washington a 3-2 win over the Colorado Avalanche in Denver on Thursday night. The victory came after the Caps fell down 2-0 in the first, and it halted their short slide at two games.
The Caps played the front half of Thursday's game like they've played for the last couple of weeks, looking a little sluggish and disjointed against a skilled and speedy Colorado team that came in with five straight wins and eight victories in its last nine games. But Washington played the second half of the game much like it did in rolling up one of the league's best records in the season's first quarter, getting clutch performances from both special teams, timely saves and contributions from up and down the lineup.
Video: Capitals rally to defeat Avalanche
"As the game went on, I felt like our game kept building and kept getting better in all areas," says Caps coach Todd Reirden. "A lot of guys stepped up, and we just played way more as a team. We were a lot more connected and in synch tonight after two good days of practice.
"To pull out a win coming from behind, it's a big win for our team here to start this road trip."
Although they fell down 1-0 before the three-minute mark of the first, the Caps' start was decent enough. They spent some time in Colorado territory and generated a couple of early chances. But the Avs grabbed an early lead, coming 200 feet to score the game's first goal at 2:54 of the first, an Andre Burakovsky one-timer from the bottom of the right circle.
Colorado spent the first period displaying clean and efficient breakouts, and when they were able to get into the Caps' zone, the Avs were also adept at keeping pucks in at the top of Washington's zone, forcing the Caps into some prolonged shifts in their own end, and at altitude to boot.
Video: Postgame | February 13
Washington defended better than in recent games, but Braden Holtby did have to make an early breakaway stop on Matt Calvert when the Avs winger got behind Washington's defense and came in all alone.
Colorado stifled the Caps through the middle of the first period, holding them without a shot on net for seven minutes at one point, and limiting Washington to only two shots - one of them from neutral ice - over the final 13-plus minutes of the period.
Late in the first, Oshie was boxed for a hi-sticking in the offensive zone, and Colorado took advantage of the game's first power play to double its lead. Once again, the Avs came 200 feet, and this time it was Mikko Rantanen who scored with the extra man at 16:05, beating Holtby on the glove side.
Colorado kept the heat on in the front half of the middle frame, and the Caps needed Holtby to make a couple good stops - on Joonas Donskoi and Nathan MacKinnon - early in the period to keep the deficit at two. Midway through the second, the Caps got their first power play chance of the game, and they cashed in to cut the Colorado lead in half.
Video: WSH@COL: Backstrom taps Vrana's feed home for PPG
After taking a feed from John Carlson at center point, Jakub Vrana made a nifty play from the right half wall, threading a sharp tape-to-tape feed to set up Nicklas Backstrom's back door tap-in at 11:37.
Washington drew some life from that power play and the resulting goal; the Caps had a 9-0 advantage in shots on net from the start of that power play and another man advantage that followed soon after. But that run was halted when the Caps put themselves in some deep penalty peril with a Nic Dowd holding call in the offensive zone and a Lars Eller delay of game (puck over glass) penalty exactly a minute later.
Those infractions gave the Avalanche a full minute's worth of 5-on-3 time with Washington's top two penalty-killing pivots both in the box. The Caps deployed winger Tom Wilson for the ensuing defensive-zone draw, and he won it, effectively shaving off a third or so of that 5-on-3 time. Holtby took care of the rest, stopping MacKinnon twice before Dowd stepped out of the box.
Washington wasn't able to take advantage of a late power play chance in the second and another early in the third, but when Burakovsky went off for hi-sticking at 11:13 of the third, his old roommate tied it up.
Video: WSH@COL: Wilson deflects Carlson's shot home for PPG
With 25 seconds remaining on the man advantage, Wilson went to the net and tipped home a Carlson point shot, knotting the score at 2-2 with 7:12 left. That goal set the stage for Oshie's late heroics, and Washington's only 5-on-5 goal of the game.
Eller gained control of the puck behind the Colorado cage and carried out front, using his body to protect it. He fed Nick Jensen at the right point, and the Caps defenseman expertly skirted Avs captain Gabriel Landeskog, who was trying to front his shot high in the zone. Jensen created just enough room to squeeze off a shot, and Oshie nicked it past Grubauer to give the Caps their first lead of the night.
Video: WSH@COL: Oshie tips Jensen's shot past Grubauer
"What Jens did there at the blueline, it created the whole goal," recounts Oshie. "There was some good play before that by Lars and [Vrana] to get possession, but [the defensemen] work on it all the time, and I try to get in front of the net a lot.
"[Jensen's] footwork and his ability to move side-to-side there and pull it around [Landeskog] and get the shot through created the whole goal. So hats off to him in doing that, and it's fortunate that it went in. I don't even know how much time was left, but glad it went in and glad we finished it off."
Video: Reirden Postgame | February 13
Colorado called its timeout right away and vied for the tying goal with the extra attacker, but the Caps prevailed for their 21st road win of the season and Holtby's 21st triumph.
"Our first period looked a little bit like the past couple games that we've been playing," says Wilson. "We knew wasn't good enough. We had the hard conversation at the intermission, so we wanted to bounce back, and that wasn't good enough. Some guys stepped up and got the job done."