A week ago Friday night, the Caps embarked upon a weeklong, four-game road trip that took them to Detroit and then to California, and they brought a modest two-game winning streak along with them. After Friday's 3-2 win over the Ducks in Anaheim, the Caps have stretched that streak to six, running the table on a four-game road trip for just the second time in franchise history and the first time in more than 26 years.
Jakub Vrana's goal early in the third period snapped a 2-2 tie and proved to be the game-winner in a spirited contest that featured some carryover hostilities from a Nov. 18 meeting between the two teams in Washington.
Video: Vrana scores game-winner, adds assist in 3-2 victory
"That was impressive work by our team," says Caps coach Todd Reirden. "Three totally different games, three totally different ways to try to win and get the outcome we wanted."
Since Carl Hagelin's return to the lineup in San Jose on Tuesday, the Caps' third line has played well. On Friday, that unit got Washington started just ahead of the midpoint of the first. The Caps came away with possession after a board battle along the left-wing wall in the Anaheim zone, and they worked it back down the wall - Nick Jensen to Dmitry Orlov to Hagelin below the goal line. Hagelin spotted Travis Boyd down low on the right side, and fed him perfectly. From a bad angle, Boyd beat Ryan Miller to lift the Caps to a 1-0 advantage at 9:00 of the first.
"I think we've been creating chances every single night," says Boyd. "Sometimes they just don't go in, and you've got to stay with it. We were lucky enough to get one in tonight."
Video: WSH@ANA: Boyd snaps wicked wrister from tough angle
Early in the second period, Anaheim defenseman Erik Gudbranson and Caps winger Garnet Hathaway came together, ready to renew acquaintances after their previous encounter last month in DC. Gudbranson dropped his mitts first and Hathaway followed, but officials intervened and parked them both for 10 minute-misconducts, giving Gudbranson an additional minor for unsportsmanlike conduct.
Washington needed all of 16 seconds with which to cash in on the ensuing power play. John Carlson fed Evgeny Kuznetsov and after quickly surveying his options, the latter called his own number and snapped a shot past Miller on the short side for a 2-0 Caps lead at 5:10 of the second.
"Sometimes you've got to surprise people, right?" says Kuznetsov, who typically looks to pass in such situations, unless he sees something particularly tempting. "Merry Christmas right there, right?"
Video: WSH@ANA: Kuznetsov sneaks a wrister five-hole for PPG
An actual fight followed, between Caps defenseman Radko Gudas and Ducks winger Nicolas Deslauriers, with the Anaheim forward getting a 10-minute misconduct on this one.
Midway through the second, the Ducks briefly appeared to have cut into the Caps' lead on a Sam Steel power-play goal, but the Caps issued a successful video challenge and the goal was overturned because Ducks blueliner Cam Fowler was offside.
Late in the frame, the Ducks did halve the Washington advantage when Ryan Getzlaf scored from the slot at 17:03, making it a 2-1 game.
Anaheim made it a 2-2 game in the first minute of the third when Getzlaf set up Adam Henrique, who beat Holtby on the short side from the right circle just 45 seconds into the final stanza.
The Caps quickly regained the lead. At the end of his shift, Vrana dumped the puck deep in Anaheim ice. As his linemates changed, he went in on the forecheck and forced a turnover from Ducks defenseman Brendan Guhle. Vrana took a shot, and Miller made the stop, but Vrana backhanded his own rebound home at 1:37, putting the Caps back on top, 3-2.
Video: WSH@ANA: Vrana flips home backhander on second try
"Pretty much all game we tried to put pucks deep there," relates Vrana, "forecheck their [defense] and create turnovers. As you could see, that was the one. It was pretty much right on my tape, so I just tried to finish it off."
Soon after the Vrana goal, Gudbranson and Hathaway finally went at it, unencumbered by the lawmen, and things settled down some after that. Anaheim threatened here and there, but the Caps stayed disciplined, they protected the net front, and Holtby walled off anything sent his way, enabling the Caps to get out of California with a perfect trip.
"Tonight sums it up for me," says Reirden. "That's what we are right now, and we've been able to get this special connection - from I'd say training camp on, really - where guys are standing up for each other. Whether it's fighting or not fighting, everyone is always together in any scrums. Guys are blocking shots when you need to, dumping pucks in at the red line instead of trying to make plays when there isn't something there. It's been impressive, and you don't pull off a sweep of California without doing those things, so it all got summed up into tonight's game for me."