It didn't work out that way, but when the dust settled at night's end, the hometown fans went home happy. They witnessed Alex Ovechkin's 25th career hat trick, looked on as his second goal made him the third player in league history to string together 15 straight seasons with 30 or more goals, watched Tom Wilson make a dazzling feed to finish the hat trick, and saw Ilya Samsonov break a franchise record that stood for more than three decades.
Washington skated off with a 5-2 victory in its last home game before the bye week, showing the plucky Devils a much better performance than it put forth five nights earlier. On Thursday morning, the Caps noted that a good start would be key. On Thursday night, they skated the skate.
Video: Ovechkin's hat trick boosts Capitals past Devils
"We talked about it a lot going into the Carolina game [on Monday]," says Caps defenseman John Carlson, referring to the 2-0 victory between the two contests against New Jersey. "And then we followed that up tonight, playing against the same team that we didn't like our effort against. I liked how we responded against Carolina, and certainly tonight."
The Caps definitely managed a much better start, but they also spent most of the first half of the first frame overcoming some adversity in the way of near misses and a missed call. In the first three and a half minutes, the Caps saw Devils goalie Louis Domingue use his paddle to deny a Wilson tip-in of an Ovechkin pass, they saw T.J. Oshie hit a post from point blank range, and they had a Carl Hagelin goal called back because the Caps were ruled off-side on the play.
Seconds after all that, Ovechkin was hi-sticked and blood flowed, but no one who mattered witnessed it. Around the midpoint of the period, a Jonas Siegenthaler shot got through Domingue, but the goalie reached behind him and clamped the puck safely to the ice before it slid over the goal line.
Soon after that, the Caps went up against the Devils' power play for the first time, and they managed to kill it off, thanks to a Samsonov save on Sami Vatanen.
Washington went on a power play of its own, and it wasn't able to light the lamp in the first three-quarters of the man advantage, but it got a boost from Devils winger John Hayden, who took a highly unwise holding call 200 feet from his own net, giving the Caps 27 seconds worth of a 5-on-3 manpower advantage.
The Caps only needed five seconds of that time to take the lead.
Oshie won the right dot draw, Nicklas Backstrom pushed the puck back to Carlson at the right point, and Carlson put it on a tee for Ovechkin, who cranked it home from the office, putting the Caps on top 1-0 at 15:17.
In the final minute of the frame, Ovechkin scored again, this time beating Domingue just three seconds after Backstrom won a left dot draw and fed the captain. That goal was No. 30 on the season for Ovechkin.
Washington took that 2-0 lead into first intermission, and when they came out for the second period, they were looking at a new goaltender. Domingue retired for the evening with a lower body injury, and Cory Schneider came on in relief. Sixteen seconds into the frame, Hagelin scored one that counted.
The Caps went in on the forecheck, and Richard Panik collected an errant New Jersey feed and put it to Lars Eller down low on the left side. Eller made a superb pass to the slot for Hagelin, who buried it for a three-goal Washington lead.
Video: NJD@WSH: Hagelin scores in 1st period
Less than a minute later, Wayne Simmonds struck from the top of the paint for the Devils, making it a 3-1 contest at 1:08. Washington missed a chance to add to that lead late in the period when Eller drew a double-minor for hi-sticking, and the Caps had to be content with a two-goal advantage going into the third.
The Caps had an early power play chance in the third, but an errant Ovechkin feed high in the zone resulted in a breakaway for New Jersey's Blake Coleman, and he scored his second shorthanded goal in as many games against Washington this week, whittling what had been a three-goal bulge down to a single goal at 3:34.
Just over three minutes later, the Caps came back with a strong response shift to regain a multi-goal lead. Evgeny Kuznetsov's line put together a dominant offensive-zone shift, culminating in a Jakub Vrana goal from the slot at 6:42, giving the Caps some breathing room.
"Obviously that was a great offensive-zone shift," says Caps coach Todd Reirden. "We spent a ton of time there and eventually just wore them out until they came up with a great chance to Vrana there, and he is able to convert.
"But that was a huge shift for us in terms of righting the ship and making amends for the [shorthanded goal against], but that's our team."
All that remained was for Ovechkin to fill the hat trick. And fill it he did, with Wilson supplying an astounding feed to finish it off. Wilson beat Will Butcher to the puck on the forecheck, carried behind the cage on his forehand, curled out to the goal line and put it on his backhand before sliding a perfect feed to the captain, who was left with an easy back door tap-in to make it 5-2 at 15:42.
"It was sick," says Ovechkin of the Wilson feed. "Not lots of great players can do that, but you can see how he is growing up as a player and as a leader. Even [Backstrom] said, 'Wow, what a play."
Video: NJD@WSH: Ovechkin completes hat trick
To their credit, the Devils never quit despite losing their starting netminder and being down by three.
"I thought we played on our heels a little bit," says Devils coach Alain Nasreddine. "We knew they were going to come out [hard] because of last game, and they're a good team. There's a reason why they're the best team in the league.
"[We gave them] a little bit too much respect, maybe. We played on our heels, waited to see what was going to happen. It was clear before the game that we wanted to impose our style of play on them, but they did it better than we did."
Samsonov was sharp again, making 32 saves to win his ninth straight start. That erases Bob Mason's eight-game winning streak from the books; Mason's eight-game winning streak in 1984-85 had been the longest winning run for any rookie Washington goaltender.
For the Caps, Thursday's win was another strong response in a season in which they've consistently been able to do so when necessary.
"I liked our start again," says Reirden. "We managed the puck, we established the forecheck, we get in, we do some really good things where we're spending some time in the offensive zone they're just icing it. They end up putting some pucks out in the neutral zone, just to kind of alleviate pressure, and you know we I thought we were coming at them pretty good.
"We score the goal, and then it's disallowed. That was you know discouraging. It takes a little while [for the video review], so then we had to ramp our energy back up there. I liked our start, and that's something we talked about the last few games. That was a good response from us."