There was a time in the not-too-distant past when 6-5 and 5-4 games were more commonplace for the Washington Capitals. These days, the Caps are much more of a 3-2 or 2-1 team, but with the high octane and high event Toronto Maple Leafs in town on Tuesday night, the Caps strapped themselves into the time machine and played some fire wagon hockey with the Leafs.
Video: Ovi leads comeback with OT winner in 6-5 victory
Alex Ovechkin's goal at the 22-second mark of overtime gave the Capitals their only lead of the night, and the only one that mattered. The 19th overtime game-winner of Ovechkin's career gave the Caps a 6-5, come-from-behind win over the Leafs, halting Toronto's winning run at five and extending Washington's to three.
The Leafs score a lot of goals in the first; they have a league-leading total of 40 after netting three in the first frame against the Caps on Tuesday. Toronto tends to give them up late in the game, though, and the Capitals scored thrice in the third to run the Leafs' goals against total to 39 in the third this season. It was the second time in as many games that Toronto yielded three goals in the third period.
For the second time in their last three games, the Caps opened up a six-pack, getting six goals from six different scorers. It was a fun game to watch, and fun game for many of the participants as well.
Video: Caps players talk after a 6-5 OT win vs. Toronto
"Yeah, it was fun," says Caps winger Justin Williams, who had a goal and three points. "We felt like we needed a little excitement in here. I think we kind of willed our way to that win. It was fun and exciting for everybody."
On the first shift of the game, Ovechkin drew a holding call on Toronto defenseman Nikita Zaitsev, giving the Washington power play an early opportunity. The Caps cashed in, taking a 1-0 lead at 1:14 of the first on Williams' 10th goal of the season, a deflection of Dmitry Orlov's well-placed point shot.
The Leafs tied the game on their own first power play of the night, as Nazem Kadri jimmied a loose puck between Braden Holtby's pad and the right post to square the score at 1-1 at the 6:39 mark.
Toronto took a 2-1 lead when Connor Brown beat Holtby high to the glove side on the rush at 11:44 of the first. Just over two minutes later, the Leafs went on the power play when Williams was sent to the box for cross-checking, one of three offensive-zone minors the Caps incurred on the night.
Washington killed off that penalty, and Williams collected the puck and skated down the left side and into Toronto ice immediately after exiting the box. A right-handed shot, he realized he didn't have the best look or angle from that side, so he wisely turned and fed a late arriving T.J. Oshie. Oshie carried lower into the zone and to the right, patiently surveying for the right moment before ripping a wrist shot high into the cage behind Leafs goalie Frederick Andersen. Oshie's goal made it a 2-2 game with four minutes left in the first.
A couple of minutes later, the Leafs regained their lead. Ex-Caps defenseman Connor Carrick wound up and fired from the top of the right circle, but snapped his stick in two in the process. The fastball became a changeup as a result, and Frederik Gauthier was in perfect position at the top of the paint to tip it past Holtby for a 3-2 Toronto lead.
For the first time in 37 games this season, Caps coach Barry Trotz hooked his starting goaltender after the Leafs reached Holtby for three goals on eight shots in the first.
"I didn't think Holts was really strong today," offers Trotz, by way of explanation. "The third goal, both of our defensemen really screened him out. He didn't see the puck.
Video: Coach Trotz discusses the 6-5 victory over Toronto
"I just felt he was battling the puck today. He's been so good for so long for us that I just wanted to change the momentum and see if we could get some momentum off of that."
Philipp Grubauer came on in relief, and he held the fort until late in the middle frame when the Leafs went up by a pair with their second power-play goal of the night.
Rookie sensation Auston Matthews wowed the crowd with a spin-o-rama feed from behind the net to Leo Komarov in front, and the latter tapped it home for a 4-2 Toronto lead at 13:33.
Although they were down by two goals heading into the third for the first time in nearly two months, the Caps quickly erased that deficit, scoring on each of their first two shots on net in the third period.
First, the Caps finished off a strong offensive-zone shift with an Evgeny Kuznetsov goal, his first in 18 games. Williams and Marcus Johansson combined to win the puck with some great wall work below the Toronto goal line. Kuznetsov slipped into a soft spot in the slot, and Johansson fed him perfectly. Kuznetsov whipped a one-timer past Andersen to pull the Caps within one at 4-3, just 2:20 into the third.
Seventy-nine seconds later, the Caps pulled even on another excellent shift in the attack zone, this time with the Lars Eller line doing the heavy lifting. After Eller worked the puck out to Matt Niskanen at the left point, Niskanen wound up as if to pump the puck toward the cage. Instead, he put it on a tee for blueline partner Orlov, whose one-timer from the right dot eluded a sprawling Andersen. Orlov's first goal in 20 games made it 4-4 at the 3:39 mark.
Toronto vaulted into its third lead of the night when Leafs rookie Mitch Marner beat Grubauer through the five-hole on a breakaway with 8:52 left. But less than three minutes later, the Caps rallied once again.
Kuznetsov carried in on a semi-breakaway, but was hindered from behind and his backhand bid glanced off the outside of the right post. The puck bounced back out front where three red sweaters converged on it, and John Carlson banged it home from there. It was a 5-5 game with 6:05 still remaining to be played.
That set the stage for Ovechkin in overtime. Jay Beagle won the opening draw, then went to the bench in favor of Ovechkin. Kuznetsov carried into Toronto ice and left the puck for Carlson along the right wing wall. Carlson fought through Komarov's check and dished cross-ice to Ovechkin, who finished a 15-second shift by blasting a one-timer past Andersen from the bottom of the left circle.
Ovechkin is now tied with Jaromir Jagr for most overtime game-winners in NHL history. Ovechkin has 94 game-winning goals in his career, tied for 10th in the history of the league.
"I didn't think we were very good tonight," says Leafs coach Mike Babcock. "To tell you the truth, I didn't think [the Capitals] were very good. I thought they had a good first-period push; we responded a bit in the second period. But we weren't very good defensively, we didn't skate like we can and didn't play like we could in lots of ways.
"We got a point here tonight, and getting a point on the road when you're not very good doesn't happen very often. We were all in it together, though. Right from the goaltending to the [defense] to the forwards, we were all in it together - not very good."
Toronto had just three even-strength shots on goal after 20 minutes of play, just 11 after the second period and only 15 by night's end. Like the Caps of just under a decade ago, they're capable of scoring a lot of goals and vulnerable to giving up a lot of them.
"They're young, fast and skilled," says Ovechkin. "Obviously lots of talent out there. It's fun to play against those guys. It's always fun to watch how the league changes. It was a great game, fun game."