Even ugly NHL games have a winner in the era of the Original 31, and that was the Preds on this night. Nashville rallied in the third for a 5-4 victory, their eighth straight win over Washington. The Caps dug out of an early two-goal hole to take a 4-3 lead into the final frame, but they surrendered a Ryan Johansen shorthanded tying tally and gave up the game-winner to Yannick Weber - his first goal of the season - with less than five minutes remaining.
"However it happens, to go into the third period with a lead and lose it - and especially how we lost it - is disappointing for sure," says Caps coach Todd Reirden.
The early minutes of Wednesday's game were relatively quiet, but the two teams combined for five goals in a span of 6 minutes and 58 seconds before the first period was over. The Caps took a 1-0 lead at 9:28 when Richard Panik beat Nashville netminder Juuse Saros on the blocker side off the rush. Carl Hagelin sprung Panik into Nashville ice and he scored just eight seconds after the Preds were credited with a face-off win in the Capitals' end.
Washington's lead was short-lived. Forty-seven seconds after Panik's goal, Jarred Tinordi netted his first NHL goal, putting a slapshot from above the left circle past Braden Holtby at 10:15 to make it a 1-1 game. Tinordi is the son of former Caps blueliner Mark Tinordi.
Nashville took a 2-1 lead on Mikael Granlund's power-play goal at 12:52, a tally that came with 10 seconds left on a Dmitry Orlov holding minor.
Rocco Grimaldi scored off the rush at 16:02, threading a backhander through the five-hole on Holtby to make it a 3-1 game. Three of Grimaldi's 19 career goals have come at Washington's expense, in just four games against the Caps.
A mere 24 seconds later, the Predators almost literally handed one back. Saros went behind the net to handle a hard-around, only to lose the handle in front. And speaking of predators, Alex Ovechkin pounced on the puck like a hawk, punching it into the vacant net to make it 3-2 at 16:26. With that goal, the Caps' captain surpassed Steve Yzerman (692) for sole possession of ninth place on the NHL's all-time goals ledger.
Early in the second, the Caps got another gift goal, but Panik and Hagelin put in the hard work to make it happen by getting below the goal line and being hard on the forecheck. Panik rattled Preds defender Dante Fabbro into the glass with a heavy hit behind the Nashville net, so Fabbro left the puck for teammate Nick Bonino. Hagelin put some heat on his former Penguins linemate, and Bonino's hurried clearing feed bounded off Saros and into the net, tying the game at 3-3 at 6:01 of the second. Panik got credit for his second goal of the night on the play.
Just after the midpoint of the middle period, Washington regained the lead late on a power play. After Saros stopped Lars Eller's shot from the slot, Tom Wilson scored on the rebound, his second power-play goal in as many games, and his third goal in the last three contests at 11:06. The Caps kept the Preds off the board for the rest of the second, and they entered the third with a 4-3 advantage and a sizeable 29-14 lead in shots on net.
With Panik and Johansen in the box for matching minors early in the third, Wilson drew his second hi-sticking minor of the night - this one on Viktor Arvidsson - to give the Caps a 4-on-3 power play for 38 seconds. Reirden opted to call his timeout to talk it over; it was an opportunity for Washington to take its first two-goal lead of the night.
Instead, the Preds knotted the score on Johansen's shorthanded goal. With the Caps still on a 5-on-4 man advantage, Holtby tried to catch the Predators in a change, firing the puck up ice for a teammate at the Nashville line. But he didn't see Johansen lurking in neutral ice. The Preds pivot picked off the pass, skated into Washington ice, and put a precision shot off the far post and in, making it a 4-4 contest exactly three minutes into the third.
Washington put itself in peril when Jakub Vrana took a needless slashing penalty in the offensive zone, but the Caps killed it off.
With just under five minutes left, the Preds worked the puck around the Washington end, getting it to Weber at the right point. He floated a shot into traffic, and the puck took a good bounce, bounding off Michal Kempny and the right post before going in with 4:37 left.
Weber finished the night with just 7:39 in ice time, the least for any of Nashville's 18 skaters, but he netted the game-winner on the last of his three third-period shifts, scoring his first goal in 76 games, since Nov. 10, 2018.
Eller was boxed for a neutral-zone hooking violation with 3:57 left, taking a chunk out of what comeback time the Caps had remaining to them, and their four-game winning streak came to an end.
"We understand that going into the third period with a lead in our building," says Caps center Nic Dowd, "the game is in our hands and we are right where we want to be, and that game should have been over. Then some stuff happened, and we ended up losing the game. But it's definitely self-inflicted. On a positive note, that means we can fix it."
Despite giving up two gift goals, the Preds won the special teams battle and the game.
"One of the things we talked about before the game," says Preds coach John Hynes, "was about our energy level and our intensity level in the game. But also in every game, there is going to be adversity that goes through.
"One of the goals of this game, one is obviously you want to win it. But the second was, can we come out of this game - win or lose - with some identity of push back in getting through those situations?
"In this game, we had all kinds of it. There were some odd goals that went in, some tough bounces, [we had to] come from behind, so I really liked the fact that we were able to stay with it and got rewarded for it."