According to the calendar, the game between the Caps and the Calgary Flames was played on a Sunday night. But with the World Series champion Washington Nationals in the house to celebrate their freshly won title, the building had all the feel and liveliness of a wild and raucous Friday or Saturday night contest.
The Caps rode that palpable wave of energy and Jakub Vrana's first career hat trick to a 4-2 win over the Flames, Washington's fourth straight victory and its fourth straight on home ice as well.
Video: Vrana notches hat trick, Capitals honor Nationals
"I was disappointed in the first with some of our execution," says Caps coach Todd Reirden. "And we discussed that after the first period. I thought the execution wasn't at the level that is expected from our team. So that's my responsibility to raise that level, and the players respond.
"It's a clear message, and I thought we did a much better job with the puck and giving up a lot less from that point moving forward."
Video: Todd Reirden Postgame | November 3
Calgary got on the board first, cashing in on a Caps turnover after a couple of draws in Washington ice. The Caps won the second of those face-offs, but Matthew Tkachuk picked off Dmitry Orlov's backhand pass behind the Caps' net, and fed Andrew Mangiapane in front. Mangiapane scored from the top of the paint for a 1-0 Calgary lead at 5:40.
Immediately after a television timeout, the Caps lost a draw in their own end, and still managed to tie the game 11 seconds later. Washington forced a turnover at the half wall in their end, and Tom Wilson pushed the puck up the right wing wall into neutral ice. Evgeny Kuznetsov tore off in pursuit, beating T.J. Brodie to the puck and issuing a perfect backhand feed to the net front, where Vrana was driving the center lane. He beat Cam Talbot on the stick side to tie the game at 1-1 at 10:50.
"That's my bread and butter, you know?" says Kuznetsov of his backhand feed. "That's all I can say. I see him wide open, and when you have a guy like that hot - he had a couple of goals last game - you've just got to give it to him. He will deliver it. As long as he stays hot, we are in pretty good shape."
Video: Postgame Locker Room | November 3
Just over four minutes later, Vrana scored again to give the Caps a lead. Vrana got in on the forecheck and blunted Travis Hamonic's clearing attempt. Orlov collected it high in Calgary ice and fed Kuznetsov down in the bottom half of the left circle, and he left it for Vrana, who netted his second of the night and the period to put the Caps up 2-1 at 15:08.
The Caps appeared to have the Flames tamed and on their heels until the final ticks of the first frame, but Calgary was able to manufacture a late equalizer. Elias Lindholm tipped Oliver Kylington's left point shot past Ilya Samsonov with 1.6 seconds left, sending the teams to their respective rooms with the game even at 2-2.
The two sides traded chances through a hard-fought middle frame that was - like the period that preceded it - free of special teams play. Late in the period, Vrana notched his third goal of the night to restore the Washington lead.
Michal Kempny blocked a couple of Johnny Gaudreau shots deep in the Caps' zone, and Kuznetsov got hold of the puck after the second one, and sent Vrana - who was somehow behind the Calgary defense high in Washington ice - off to the races on a breakaway. Talbot stopped Vrana's first shot, but the winger reached back and tucked the rebound in, making it a 3-2 game at 15:05.
Video: CGY@WSH: Vrana records first career NHL hat trick
We actually wondered how Vrana was able to get behind the Calgary defense while still in the defensive zone.
"I can't tell you how," says Vrana. "I'm just going to read the play. It's just what I'm trying to do."
Fortunately, Kuznetsov was more than happy to clear that up for us all.
"That's actually a play from last game," jokes Kuznetsov. "I tell him 'Bleep' that [defensive] zone, just go score your third goal. And he listened to me."
Washington finally got the game's first power play in the first minute of the third period, and the Caps showed some killer instinct, cashing in for a critical insurance tally. With the second power play unit on the ice in the latter stages of the man advantage, Brendan Leipsic crept up from the point to keep the puck in Calgary ice. Wilson hunted down a loose puck near the Calgary goal line, and sent it to Lars Eller at the bottom of the right circle. From there, Eller fired a short side roof shot to improve the Caps' advantage to 4-2 at 2:20 of the third.
"I thought the effort was there," says Flames coach Bill Peters of his team's performance, playing for the second time in as many nights. "But we needed that kill in the third - the first one we needed - to keep it at 3-2 there. They got a little bit of wiggle room, and then we couldn't find a way to get the next one. To me, that was a big power-play goal that they got."
Samsonov walled off the Flames the rest of the way, stopping each of the last 19 shots he faced. The Flames put eight shots on him in the third, including three while Calgary was on the power play. Samsonov improves to 5-1-0 on the season, and he becomes the first rookie goaltender in franchise history to win each of his first five starts. Samsonov's lone setback came in a relief effort against Colorado on Oct. 14.
Video: CGY@WSH: Washington Nationals celebrate with Capitals
Kuznetsov finished the night with three primary assists, but credit the Nats with a secondary helper. Still very much in the honeymoon phase of their hard fought and well earned celebratory revelry, they kept the energy level high throughout the night.
"That was cool," says Eller. "I was smiling every time looking up at the JumboTron, seeing them. That created some extra atmosphere tonight, and I thought it was great. They deserve all the praise they can get. You work so long to accomplish something, and the time you get to enjoy it is very short. So all of the celebration and the recognition, they deserve it."