Twice in Wednesday's game against the Pittsburgh Penguins, Caps winger T.J. Oshie took shots to the head from Pittsburgh players, and twice he went down the tunnel to the Washington locker room for repairs and/or evaluation. Twice, Oshie returned to action, and the second time he did so, he delivered a shot of his own, this one a shot to the back of the Pittsburgh net, winning it for Washington.
Oshie's goal came with just 74 seconds remaining in the game, and it lifted the Caps to an improbable 2-1 win over the Pens, whose losing streak swelled to five (0-4-1) with the loss. Sporting a stitched-up wound just to the side of his left eye, Oshie held court for the media after daggering the Pens.
"My face is a little messed up," says Oshie, "but I'm feeling pretty good now.
"It was nice to get back out there both times. I have to throw a shout out to the training staff and the doctors both times. They did a good job making sure I was okay. I probably would have come out a lot sooner, but they wanted to be 100 percent [sure], so thanks to them."
Video: TJ Oshie | November 7
The win was improbable because the Caps really didn't play well enough to win this game, but fortunately for them, Braden Holtby did. Under siege for much of the night, Holtby stopped 41 of 42 shots he faced to end a personal three-game slide (0-2-1).
"I thought he was really strong," says Caps coach Todd Reirden of Holtby. "Just the number of battles at our netfront, they went to the net extremely hard. We knew coming in that they were struggling to score goals, and they were going to simplify things - they were going to put a lot of pucks to the net and try to create scrums around our net.
"I like the fact that we battled and competed around there, but they were able to get some chances from some dangerous areas, and for me, I thought it was his best game of the year and he is a huge reason why we were able to win that one."
The Caps weren't able to convert on an early power play opportunity in the first period, and then they lost Oshie for the remainder of the first period after he took an unpenalized hi-stick in the face from Pens blueliner Olli Maatta. Pittsburgh seemed more engaged than the Caps in the early going; the Pens outhit the Caps 14-3 in the first and Washington dodged a few bullets in terms of Penguins scoring chances. Two Pittsburgh bids late in the first clanged off the goalpost.
Video: Holtby, Oshie lead Capitals past Penguins, 2-1
Pittsburgh broke the seal on the scoresheet with a power-play goal from Sidney Crosby at 12:16 of the first. Taking a cross-ice feed from Jack Johnson, Crosby drilled a shot past Holtby to make it a 1-0 game.
Oshie returned for the second period, and the Caps were able to ramp up their collective compete level some, and they managed to get the game tied up with a power-play goal of their own.
Temporarily manning the left point - a departure from his normal location on the right half wall - Nicklas Backstrom kept a Pens clearing attempt in the zone at the Pittsburgh line, then slid the puck over to John Carlson at the right point. Carlson delivered a perfect feed to Alex Ovechkin, who cranked a shot past Pittsburgh goalie Casey DeSmith cleanly, tying the game at 1-1 at 7:09 of the second.
In the third, the Pens again had the better of play early, and while Pittsburgh was on the power play, Evgeni Malkin was excused for the rest of the night and given a five-minute major for a check to the head on Oshie, who went down in a heap, then went down the tunnel for medical attention for the second time.
Malkin's major and game misconduct came at 3:27 of the third. The two teams played four skaters aside for 69 seconds, and Washington's all-you-can-eat power play ended up being 3:51 in duration. The Caps' power play response was meek; there were more Washington turnovers during that extra-man opportunity than there were shot attempts or scoring chances.
Video: Todd Reirden Postgame | November 7
Pittsburgh kept the heat on Holtby in the Washington end throughout the third, a period in which the Pens owned a 16-5 advantage in shots on net and a 32-9 bulge in shot attempts, despite the Caps' advantage in power play time. Holtby walled off everything the Pens sent in his direction, and there was no loose change to be had around the net, either.
Just as the Caps seemed to be clinging to life and angling to eke a point out of a potential overtime game, Oshie returned to action with less than four minutes left.
The Pens played a strong game throughout, but consecutive icing calls in the game's penultimate minute proved to be their undoing. Pittsburgh won both of those defensive zone draws, but iced the puck after the first one and failed to clear the zone after the second.
Evgeny Kuznetsov carried up the left wing wall, leaving the puck for Carlson near the line. Carlson saw enough space to lug it down to the top of the circle, and while Ovechkin was attracting Pittsburgh's attention near the paint, Oshie found a soft spot, and Carlson found Oshie. The Washington winger calmly delivered his karmic shot to the shelf, sending the fans into a frenzy, and sending the Pens home with no points.
"I don't know what to say," says Backstrom of Oshie. "I rarely saw him on the bench there, but he came back at the right time. That's what big players do. They come back, and they score the game-winner."
That game-winner gives the Caps their first modest two-game winning streak of the season, with Oshie supplying the game-winner in both victories.
"I thought our guys played extremely hard," says Pens coach Mike Sullivan. "They deserved a better fate tonight."
He's not wrong. But in hockey, there is occasionally a gulf between what you deserve and what you get. This was one of those nights for both teams.