Every NHL team gets the next four days off, and each of the 30 clubs has earned that break. But certainly no club has earned - or could use - its break as much as the Washington Capitals.
Video: Kuznetsov, Holtby lead Capitals to 5-2 victory
Playing their third game in four nights and their 17th game in a span of 31 nights, the Caps downed the Devils by a 5-2 count in New Jersey on Thursday night. In doing so, they've finished off that grinding stretch of schedule - roughly the equivalent of 20 percent of the season - with an impressive 13-2-2 mark that's even more remarkable when one recalls the Caps dropped the first two games (0-1-1) of the run.
Two nights after their 14-game point streak ended with a 3-0 loss to the Senators in Ottawa, Washington went right back into the win column.
"I was quite worried really about these last two games," admits Caps coach Barry Trotz. "Our schedule was catching up to us; you could tell in our play and you could tell that we had some tired legs out there right now, so the break couldn't come at a better time for us, really.
Video: Trotz talks after a 5-2 win in New Jersey
"It was a good response. We mustered up some energy and obviously got a good start with [Alex Ovechkin's goal]. The first 10 minutes, we were doing things right and then the last 10 minutes they sort of ground us down a little bit. They had some chances and [goalie Braden Holtby] was really good. And obviously our special teams and our power play was really good today, got us a couple goals."
Washington probably spent more time in its own end than it would have liked in the first frame, but the Caps emerged from the game's first 20 minutes with a 2-0 lead on a pair of unassisted strikes.
Ovechkin started the scoring at 6:14 of the first, executing a swipe and snipe. First he victimized defenseman Kyle Quincey, stripping him of the puck high in the New Jersey zone, and then he did the same to Devils goalie Keith Kincaid. Ovechkin drove the net and beat Kincaid with a nifty backhander to break the seal on the scoresheet.
With the Capitals operating on the man advantage late in the first, Andre Burakovsky made it 2-0. Just after hitting the goalpost with a shot, Evgeny Kuznetsov put some heat on Devils defenseman Jon Merrill in the left wing corner, forcing an errant pass to the slot, where Burakovsky was lurking. The Caps winger patiently wheeled himself into a better look at the net, then snapped the puck past Kinkaid to double the Washington lead at 18:28.
The Devils challenged the Burakovsky goal, alleging that the Capitals were offside on their entry into the offensive zone. But video replay upheld the goal and the 2-0 lead, and left the Devils without a timeout or a challenge for the rest of the game.
New Jersey cut into that lead early in the second period. Jacob Josefsen and Pavel Zacha combined for some strong half wall work along the left side of the Caps' end, and the latter fed Stefan Noesen in the slot. The newest Devil - playing in his first game in a New Jersey sweater - beat Caps goalie Braden Holtby with a wrist shot to make it a 2-1 game at 3:19 of the middle period.
Just over five minutes later, the Caps restored their two-goal cushion. Seconds after his wraparound bid was denied, Lars Eller won an offensive zone draw and then potted the rebound of a Dmitry Orlov right point shot at 8:29.
Eller's goal was critical at the time, and it eventually proved to be the game-winner.
Video: Caps players talk after #CapsDevils
"It was a big goal at an important time of the game, to get up by two," says Eller. "We knew that next goal was going to be huge; it was either going to be 2-2 or it was going to be 3-1. So that gave us a bit of a cushion. From there, we did what we have to."
New Jersey got into some penalty trouble just ahead of the midpoint of the middle period, and Kuznetsov simultaneously scored on the rush and drew another penalty, the puck seemingly sliding off his backhand and through Kinkaid's five-hole at 10:19 as Steve Santini hooked him from behind. The Kuznetsov power-play goal pushed Washington's lead to 4-1, and also ended Kinkaid's night. He was pulled in favor of Cory Schneider at that juncture.
The Devils got that one back on a power play late in the frame. Mike Cammalleri shot from left side, and Adam Henrique was able to redirect it into the smallest of areas on the short side, making it a 4-2 game with 1:44 left in the second.
New Jersey put on a good push in the early part of the third. The Caps bent a bit but didn't break, and Holtby stopped all nine shots he saw in the final period.
Some fireworks erupted just ahead of the seven-minute mark of the third when Caps defenseman Brooks Orpik leveled Devils forward Taylor Hall with a clean, open ice hit just inside the Washington line. The upshot of the incident was a raft of penalties - including a game misconduct for Washington winger Tom Wilson - and a Caps power play.
Kuznetsov netted his second of the night into a vacant Devils cage in the game's penultimate minute, to finish off the scoring for the night.
"Lars scored a big goal for us," says Trotz. "That third goal was really huge for us. It sort of set [the Devils] back, and then we were able to score another goal and pull away a little bit.
"They don't quit. Even in the third period, they had a real good push early and we were able to hang on and got a couple of saves from Holts as we did. As the period went on, we sort of got it back."