A suspension of even one game could be problematic for the Caps, who are up against the salary cap and currently are carrying no healthy extra players, but they'll save that worry for Tuesday.
Washington roared out to a quick start, pouring pucks in the direction of Anaheim goalie John Gibson from the first shift, and grabbing a 1-0 lead in the game's first minute.
Video: Ovechkin, Carlson lead Capitals past Ducks
"I liked the start to our game for sure," says Caps coach Todd Reirden. "We wanted to get off to a good start, we wanted to build off our last home game that we weren't happy with, and wanted to make sure that we had a stronger start, and we knew that forechecking was going to be a big part of our game. We were able to right away start off by getting some offensive zone time, and converting."
The Caps checked all of those boxes, and then some.
Lars Eller had a strong scoring chance about 10 seconds into the game, but Gibson made the stop and a high stick forced a face-off at the Anaheim line. Soon afterwards, Eller and his linemates were back in the zone and buzzing. From high in the Anaheim zone, Eller sent the puck behind the cage for Travis Boyd. Boyd made a sharp feed to Richard Panik in the left circle, and Panik took advantage of some friendly traffic in front of Gibson, putting a laser of a wrist shot into the far corner for a 1-0 Washington lead just 50 seconds after the opening puck drop.
The goal was Panik's first as a member of the Capitals.
Video: ANA@WSH: Panik roofs puck to open the scoring
"It sounds like a cliché," says Panik, "but you have to stay positive. Keep trying, put those pucks on the net and eventually it's going to go in. That's what happened tonight."
Gibson kept the Caps at bay for the remainder of the first, and the Caps killed off a Ducks power play late in the frame to take that 1-0 lead to the first intermission.
The lid started to boil off the pot in the second, as the two teams went at one another physically, each side laying the body liberally. The Caps had a 14-9 edge in middle frame hits, with five of them coming from Tom Wilson.
Washington doubled its lead on its first power play opportunity of the night in the front half of the second. T.J. Oshie made a strong play along the right-wing wall in Anaheim ice to prevent a clearing attempt, and John Carlson skated the puck to center point before dishing to Evgeny Kuznetsov above the right circle. Kuznetsov took a few purposeful strides forward, leaned in to sell the idea of a shot, then issued a no-look seam pass to Alex Ovechkin in his left dot office. The captain snapped a shot past Gibson's flailing paddle for a 2-0 Caps lead at 6:39.
Video: ANA@WSH: Ovechkin fires shot past Gibson for PPG
The eruption occurred in the final minute of the period, with 33.4 seconds left. Brendan Leipsic - who is listed at 5-foot-11 and 180 pounds in the game notes - put a hard but legal hit on Anaheim's Derek Grant - listed as 6-foot-3 and 206 pounds in the same game notes - just to the side of the Anaheim cage, and a group of Ducks quickly converged on Leipsic as Hathaway sent a feed to the front for Chandler Stephenson. Stephenson ripped a shot past Gibson from the slot, and all hell broke loose behind the net as Hathaway and Grant began fighting and other players paired off as well.
Video: ANA@WSH: Stephenson fires shot to top-left corner
After the two main combatants had been separated, Ducks defenseman Erik Gudbranson grabbed hold of Hathaway, who was also being held by a linesman at the time. Gudbranson sucker punched Hathaway, and the Caps winger let his emotions get the best of him, spitting on the Anaheim defenseman.
"Obviously, first there was a fight, and how I saw it was they had a third man in, and then I think they had a fourth man in, too," says Hathaway. "The refs were trying to break it up, and I feel like there were a couple of sucker punches thrown. I got one there quick, and then I reacted a little emotionally. Unfortunately, spit came out of my mouth after I got sucker punched, and it went on to him."
"That's about as low as you can dig a pit, really," says Gudbranson, who didn't mention the sucker punch. "It's a bad thing to do. It's just something you don't do in our game. And he did it."
For his part, Hathaway was contrite.
"Yeah," he responds, asked whether he regrets his action. "It has no place. It was an emotional play by me. You don't plan any of that stuff in your head, and it was a quick reaction, and unfortunately the wrong one for me, after a sucker punch."
Video: Todd Reirden Postgame | November 18
While the officials were certainly justified in issuing the match penalty to Hathaway, they botched the call on Gudbranson, who should have been tossed as the third man in. The zebras took several minutes to sort out the varying levels of punishment, and official word of those calls trickled out slowly; the official scoresheets that were passed out between periods didn't have all the penalties listed, and they weren't properly sorted on the sheet until early in the third.
"I don't know, two teams that wanted to win, I guess," answers Leipsic when asked about the genesis of the eruption. "It was getting a little chippy there, emotions started running high, and I guess that's what happens sometimes."
The Caps killed off the resulting three-minute all-you-can-eat Ducks power play early in the third, then added to their lead on a Jakub Vrana goal at 5:44, a rush goal that Vrana finished with a second effort.
Video: ANA@WSH: Vrana finishes his own rebound
Anaheim spoiled Braden Holtby's shutout bid with a Sam Steel power-play goal at 13:31, and the Ducks made it a 4-2 game on Nicolas Deslauriers goal at 18:11. The second goal resulted in the Ducks pulling Gibson for an extra attacker, and that's when Wilson bagged an empty-netter to account for the 5-2 final.
As you'd expect, both coaches were pleased with their players for sticking up for each other.
"That's what we want," says Ducks coach Dallas Eakins. "We've got to stick together as a group. That's an excellent hockey team. That's the Stanley Cup champions from two years ago. We got a full dose of where we'd like to get to as a team in the future. We got a full look at St. Louis - same thing - last game. But when the game is not going your way, you certainly want to stick together and not take it laying down. That's for sure. So we can take that as the good, but it's easy to see - just on the hockey part of it - we've got a very long way to go yet to become an elite team."
"You could kind of feel it going in that direction," says Reirden. "They have a team that plays hard. They have some players that go to the net hard and finish their checks, and their coach pushes them to play hard. They're trying to establish something different in their locker room, with the pride and passion that they're playing with. I know their coach and I know his style, and I wasn't expecting them to back down.
"We weren't backing down, either. We were playing the way we were playing, and we're not changing that. If that's the way the game goes, I like our team's chances. We talk about it all the time, our team can play a number of different styles, and that's where it went. I was just really proud of our team, that we stuck together. And it wasn't necessarily all of our big guys that were doing it. I like - up and down the lineup - that guys were standing up for each other, and again another really good growing moment for our team."