It didn't matter who scored the game-winner. It didn't matter what the final score was. And it didn't matter whether it was achieved in regulation, overtime or the shootout. A mere 18 hours after returning from their longest road trip in more than 15 years, the Capitals needed a win over the New York Rangers on Sunday afternoon at Capital One Arena. The Caps needed two points, and none of the other details were particularly important.
In the end, the Caps got that win and as the late, great Warren Zevon once sang, "Ain't That Pretty At All."
The Caps gave up a goal 21 seconds into both the first and third periods. They twice squandered two-goal leads. Four of the five goals they surrendered originated from the point. And yet at day's end, the Caps skated away with a 6-5 overtime win over the Blueshirts, leaving Washington with a respectable 5-3-0 record to show for a rugged stretch of eight games in 14 nights - the six-game road trip bookended by home games/back-to-backs.
Video: Kuznetsov, Backstrom lead Caps to 6-5 overtime win
"Obviously not all 82 [games] are going to be super pretty," says Caps center Nic Dowd. "but we got it done tonight."
It wasn't immediately easy to tell who scored the overtime game-winner, Evgeny Kuznetsov or Alex Ovechkin. Both players' sticks whacked at the loose puck in the paint, and the goal was ultimately credited to Kuznetsov, who has two overtime game-winners this month.
"This two points is very big for us," says Kuznetsov. "I feel especially today between one and two points will be a huge difference at end of the season."
The Caps returned home after a six-game, 12-day trip on Saturday evening, and they promptly got off to an inauspicious start on Sunday afternoon. New York's Jimmy Vesey fed Chris Kreider at the back door on the timing play, putting the Rangers up 1-0 on their first shot on net of the afternoon just 21 seconds after the game's opening puck drop.
Late in the period, the Caps struck twice in a span of 21 seconds to take a 2-1 lead to the room for the first intermission. T.J. Oshie pulled a pass out of his skates and dropped it to the blueline for John Carlson, who wound up as if to fire away, but instead issued a perfect feed to Nicklas Backstrom just inside the left circle. Backstrom chipped a shot high into the cage to tie the game at 1-1 at 18:42 of the first.
Video: NYR@WSH: Backstrom rifles a top-shelf snap shot
Seconds later, the Caps took the lead. Andre Burakovsky pulled the puck off the right half wall in New York ice and got it to Brett Connolly. Connolly spotted Michal Kempny lurking away from the pack of players on the right side, and fed him in the middle of the ice. From the high slot, Kempny threaded a shot through Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist to put the Caps up 2-1 at 19:03.
Washington expanded its lead in the second, going up 3-1 when Tom Wilson scored from the diamond on a power play, converting a Jakub Vrana feed from behind the New York cage at 5:09.
New York closed the deficit to one late in the period when a Brady Skjei floater from the point found its way through traffic and behind Caps goalie Pheonix Copley at 18:18 to make it a 3-2 game.
The Rangers tied the game at 3-3 when Vesey's shot from the left point sailed past Copley just 21 seconds into the third, but the road weary Caps responded quickly.
Dowd directed a good possession shift in the offensive zone, carrying and protecting the puck up high in the New York end before rolling it behind the net for a pinching Brooks Orpik. Orpik sent it on to Travis Boyd, also behind the net but on the right side. Boyd found Dowd in the slot, and the Caps center shifted to his backhand and beat Lundqvist to put the Caps back on top, 4-3 at 2:35 of the third.
Video: NYR@WSH: Dowd takes advantage of strange bounce
Just 26 seconds later, Oshie and Vrana combined for some excellent wall work behind the New York net, setting up Backstrom's second goal of the game, a laser from virtually the same spot from which he scored his first. That goal quickly restored Washington's two-goal lead at 3:01, but it wouldn't hold.
New York's Vladislav Namestnikov made it 5-4 on a Rangers power play exactly three minutes after Backstrom's goal, deflecting Neal Pionk's shot past Copley with his skate blade.
With Lundqvist pulled for an extra attacker, New York got the game tied up. Skjei's shot glanced off Caps forward Carl Hagelin and past Copley, tying the game at 5-5 with just 30.3 seconds left.
For the Rangers, who traded away popular and productive winger Mats Zuccarello less then 24 hours earlier and figure to lose more key players via the trade route in the next 24 hours, it was a big goal.
"Listen, it's been an emotional 48-72 hours for everybody," says Rangers coach David Quinn. "That felt really good, that goal."
In overtime, the Caps chased the puck for the first minute and then some, but once they got a handle on it, they were able to create some chances. On the game-winner, Ovechkin pump-faked before feeding Kuznetsov off to the right side of the cage. Kuznetsov tried to go right back to Ovechkin, but the puck got caught up - but not tied up - in Lundqvist's body. Both Caps forwards whacked at it simultaneously as the New York netmidner reached for it in vain, and Kuznetsov was deemed to have ushered it over the goal line for that second critical standings point.
Video: NYR@WSH: Kuznetsov jams puck home for overtime winner
"We got off to a slow start," says Caps coach Todd Reirden. "Obviously, they were able to score on the first shift. Our team hung in there, never quit, battled. That game had a little bit of everything in it for certain, and then we found a way to get the winner."