T.J. Oshie's overtime goal - his second goal of the game - at 1:52 of the extra session enabled the Capitals to take a 5-4 win and to overcome a resilient and desperate Minnesota Wild team on Tuesday night at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul. The win was Washington's fifth in a row and its 50th of the season, marking the second straight season and the fifth time in franchise history that the Caps have reached that plateau.
"It was a lot harder than it had to be," says Oshie. "I missed an empty-netter on the first one [seconds earlier]."
Oshie wasn't the only Washington star to shine brightly on this night. Alex Ovechkin recorded a hat trick - his second in his last two games at Xcel - scoring all three goals on the power play. Braden Holtby made 26 saves for the Caps, earning his 40th win of the season to become just the third goaltender in NHL history to win 40 or more games in three straight seasons. Marcus Johansson notched four assists to reach the 50-point level for the first time in his NHL career, and Nicklas Backstrom had yet another three-assist game, his fifth of the season and third this month.
Video: Ovechkin records hat trick, Oshie nets OT goal in win
Washington never trailed in the game, but it never felt like the Caps were in control, either. Having won just one of its previous nine games coming in, the Wild was amped up and seeking to halt its slide.
"They played pretty good tonight, I thought," says Holtby of the Wild. "They're a tough team to play against. They create a lot of havoc.
"I know at playoff time they're going to be a dangerous team, still."
Minnesota claimed a point, falling in overtime for the second straight game despite limiting the Caps to just 35 shot attempts and 20 shots on net.
"I thought we played pretty good," says Wild coach Bruce Boudreau. "That's two games in a row that we've allowed under 20 shots. This team, to give them less than 20 shots, I'll bet you five-on-five they didn't have 14 shots."
Boudreau is right. The Wild limited the Caps to just 10 five-on-five shots on net for the game.
Video: Caps players talk after a 5-4 OT/win vs. Minnesota
Washington didn't turn in its best first period on Tuesday in St. Paul, but it managed to get out of the first with a lead. Holtby made a huge stop on Minnesota center Eric Staal just after the first television timeout of the first frame, denying the veteran at the back door post.
Seconds later, the Caps incurred the first of three minor penalties in the first. The Caps killed that Dmitry Orlov tripping minor and later a Tom Wilson double-minor (for hi-sticking the Wild's Zach Parise, who did not return to the game) with aplomb, permitting just three shots on net during the six minutes in which they were shorthanded.
In between those two penalty-killing missions, the Caps jumped out to a 1-0 lead on Oshie's 31st goal of the season. Oshie did a good job of getting the puck from neutral ice into the Minnesota zone, and then Ovechkin hustled after the loose biscuit high in the Wild end of the ice. Ovechkin bumped the puck to Backstrom, and the Caps' center blasted a shot on net. Minnesota goaltender Devan Dubnyk made a pad stop, but Oshie was right there to deposit the rebound for a 1-0 Washington lead at 11:36 of the first.
Video: WSH@MIN: Oshie slides home a rebound in front
It would turn out to be the only five-on-five goal the Caps would score on this night.
Minnesota drew even early in the second when Caps killer Jason Pominville beat Holtby from the slot at the 2:17 mark. But Minnesota became undisciplined in the second, taking three minor penalties in just over seven minutes worth of time. The Caps struck twice with the extra man to take a 3-1 lead.
Video: WSH@MIN: Ovechkin nets PPG off Johansson's great dish
First, Johansson fed Ovechkin in his left dot office, and the Caps' captain had time to settle the puck and fire into a yawning cage before Dubnyk even realized what was going on. Ovechkin's goal lifted the Caps to a 2-1 lead at 7:31 of the second.
Just under five minutes later, Ovechkin scored from the office again, this time from up a bit higher, and off a feed from Kevin Shattenkirk. The shot beat Dubnyk on the short side - squeezing between his right pad and the left post - as the Minnesota goalie tried in vain to slide over and make the stop.
Video: WSH@MIN: Ovechkin rips home his second PPG of period
Late in the frame, the Wild pulled to within one when Martin Hanzal chipped the rebound of a Pominville shot behind Holtby with just 4:17 left in the period.
Although the Caps scored twice in the second period, they were out-attempted by 15-6 at even strength and they managed just one shot on net while the sides were even.
The Caps didn't fare much better in the third, spending a good deal of time in their own end of the ice, trying to stave off an energized Wild team. Washington was doing more surviving than thriving in the third, and it managed only two five-on-five shots on goal in the third for a total of just three over the final 40 minutes of regulation.
But Minnesota's Eric Haula unwisely slashed Caps center Evgeny Kuznetsov at 12:21 of the third, putting the Caps back on the power play. From there, the Great Eight needed just eight seconds to finish off the hat trick.
Backstrom and Johansson combined to do great work in the right wing corner to win the puck, and then Backstrom threaded it the Ovechkin, who whipped a wrist shot past Dubnyk to give the Caps a two-goal cushion once again, this time with just 7:31 remaining.
Video: WSH@MIN: Ovechkin buries third PPG to record hatty
But the Wild weren't done. Jared Spurgeon threw a puck toward the Washington net with just under five minutes remaining, and it bounced off a body in front and beat Holtby to make it a 4-3 game.
With Dubnyk pulled for an extra attacker, the Wild tied it on a Staal goal at 19:33 of the third period. Washington immediately issued a coach's challenge, alleging Minnesota was offside on the play. While video review seemed to confirm as much, the goal was upheld and the game was tied at 4-4. Officials ruled that a delayed offside was in effect, and no Wild player actually touched the puck until the zone was clear.
Video: WSH@MIN: Oshie nets OT winner with top-shelf snipe
Emotions on both sides were still running high as overtime loomed, but the Caps were able to make relatively quick work of things from there. Seconds after Oshie narrowly missed winning the game on a back door timing play, he fired a shot from left circle that went top shelf, far side, giving the Caps the win.
On a night when the Caps were virtually dry at five-on-five, their special teams came through to help them pick up two huge points. Washington was 3-for-4 on the power play and 5-for-5 on the penalty kill.
Video: Coach Trotz talks after a 5-4 OT/win in Minnesota
"[The Wild] didn't generate a whole lot at five-on-five, and neither did we," says Caps coach Barry Trotz. "Most of their stuff was generated just by throwing pucks [at the net].
"Our power play was huge, we got a couple of big saves when we needed it, and obviously in overtime we were good."