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POSTGAME NOTEBOOK: Caps 5, Sharks 4 (OT)

A look back at a Sunday to remember, as the Caps rally to win over San Jose, despite being down two goals in the final minute

by Mike Vogel @VogsCaps / washingtoncaps.com

I'm Not Down - Typically, when an NHL team yields an empty-net goal in the latter stages of regulation, it's a "game over" moment. The net becomes empty because the team that pulls its goaltender is trailing in the first place, and it's running out of time to do something about that. And the red light going on behind that vacated cage means the deficit just grew by a goal.

Such was Washington's lot in life on Sunday afternoon when Sharks captain Logan Couture collected a neutral zone turnover and fired it into the net left vacant when Caps coach Todd Reirden pulled goaltender Braden Holtby in the latter stages of regulation time during Sunday's game with San Jose. Couture's goal - combined with Evander Kane's hat trick - gave San Jose a seemingly insurmountable two-goal cushion with exactly one minute left.

The six Caps on the ice at the time - Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Tom Wilson, John Carlson, T.J. Oshie and Evgeny Kuznetsov - comprise Washington's "A Team" in 6-on-5 situations, but they all went to the bench after failing to manufacture the equalizer on that shift.

Enter the "B Team," consisting of Dmitry Orlov, Jakub Vrana, Richard Panik, Lars Eller, Brendan Leipsic and Radko Gudas. Less than 14 seconds after stepping onto the ice, Vrana scored on a shot from the slot to once again pull the Caps within a goal. Washington was down 4-3 with 46.9 seconds left.

Re-enter the "A Team," sans Wilson until Holtby could get back to the bench after Oshie won the ensuing center ice draw. The Caps went back to work in the San Jose zone, working the puck along the right-wing wall. Ovechkin pushed it lower, to Kuznetsov in the corner. Kuznetsov took a peek out front, and dished a nifty backhand feed to Oshie, stealthily lurking like a shark among Sharks. Oshie ripped a shot from just inside the right dot, beating Sharks goalie Martin Jones to knot the score at 4-4 with 14.2 seconds left.

Video: Capitals rally late, defeat Kane, Sharks in overtime

Somehow, the Caps had stolen a point from a game in which they trailed by two goals with a minute remaining. On to overtime we went.

Holtby denied Kane's bid for a fourth goal, stopping him from point blank range on a 2-on-1 rush. Shortly thereafter, Holtby made another dandy of a save, stopping Brent Burns, owner of 15 career overtime game-winners.

After making the save, Holtby made a heads-up indirect feed to John Carlson at the opposite blueline. Ten years to the day after he scored a game-winning, overtime goal for Team USA against Team Canada's goalie (Martin Jones!) to win the gold medal for the Americans in the 2010 World Junior Championship, here came Carlson down the right wing wall on a 2-on-1 with Eller on the opposite side. But this time Carlson didn't shoot; he issued a perfect feed to Eller, who tucked a terrific shot under the bar on the far side to complete one of the most improbable comebacks in Washington's franchise history.

Three goals in 2 minutes and 48 seconds. Victory snatched from the jaws of defeat.

"We've seen it before," says Eller, "that we can come back from difficult situations [after] being down two goals in the third. I don't think we've scored two with one minute left, but now we just raised the bar for that.

"But we know we can score goals. But things weren't coming easy for us today, and we were struggling a little bit. But I think we always had a winning mentality, a no quit mentality. And today, it just worked out in the end, even though it wasn't looking good for big parts of the game."

Sunday's game marks the sixth time in NHL history that a team that allowed an empty-net goal went on to win the game. The last time that happened was in a 2-1 Vancouver win over Calgary in a shootout on Oct. 15, 2016. Circumstances were much different in that game; the Canucks gave up the empty-netter in the first period when Loui Eriksson put the puck in his own net during a delayed penalty, and Vancouver won in the shootout. Ex-Cap Troy Brouwer was credited with the Calgary goal in the wake of Eriksson's gaffe.

Video: Reirden Postgame | January 5

The Capitals became the seventh different team in NHL history to win a game in which they trailed by multiple goals in the final minute of regulation. The feat has now been achieved nine times, with both the Montreal Maroons and the Pittsburgh Penguins turning the trick twice. Washington is the first team to pull it off in over 14 years, since Detroit victimized Chicago on Dec. 23, 2005.

Washington has come from behind to earn 14 of its 29 wins this season, tied with St. Louis for the most in the league.

Sunday's win was the Caps' sixth comeback from a multi-goal deficit to win, and they lead the NHL in that department. Dallas and Florida have each done so on five occasions.

Finally, with two such tallies on Sunday, the Caps now have seven 6-on-5 goals this season, the most in the NHL.

Victory Road - Sunday's game pitted a pair of goaltenders seeking to get back on the beam. San Jose's Jones went 1-7-0 in eight December starts, while Holtby was seeking to end his first three-game regulation losing streak in the regular season in nearly two years.

With time winding down in regulation, it appeared as though Holtby's streak would extend to four, his longest since Feb. 11-26, 2018, when he lost six straight (0-4-2), the last four of which came in regulation. Instead, his teammates rallied to force overtime, and Holtby made two brilliant stops - one on Evander Kane and the other on Brent Burns - in overtime to give the Caps a chance to claim a second point.

After thwarting Burns, Holtby made a nifty indirect pass to Carlson to pick up the secondary assist on Eller's game-winning goal. The assist is the 11th of Holtby's NHL career. Olie Kolzig holds the Caps' franchise record for goaltenders with 17 career helpers.

Video: Postgame | January 5

"Key saves at key moments," says Eller of Holtby, "especially in overtime, when we actually didn't make it very easy on ourselves in the overtime. We gave up some big opportunities, and I know we're better than that. Sometimes, your goalie has just got to come up with something extraordinary, and he did that today."

Sunday's win was the 275th of Holtby's NHL career, tying him with Marty Turco for 45th place on the NHL's all-time victories ledger.

The Sawbuck Seven - Eller's game-winning goal is his 10th of the season, giving the Caps seven different players with double-digit goal totals on the season. The Capitals are tied with Colorado for the most double-digit goal scorers in 2019-20.

Eller joins Alex Ovechkin (24), Vrana (18), Oshie (16), Evgeny Kuznetsov (16), Carlson (13) and Tom Wilson (13) in achieving that double-digit distinction.

Tell Mama - Less than a week after the birth of his first child, a son, Caps center Nic Dowd scored Washington's first goal on Sunday. It was Dowd's fifth of the season, and the first since the birth of Louie Henry Alan Dowd on New Year's Eve, and it unleashed the strains of Paul Simon's "You Can Call Me Al," Dowd's goal song.

Dowd picked that song in honor of his dad, Alan, and Sunday's goal was made even more special by the presence of both Alan and Dowd's mom in the stands for Sunday's unforgettable contest.

"Yeah, that felt really good," says Dowd. "Actually, my mom was in the house, too; the first time she has ever watched me play any home game. She's never been out.

"It's been a crazy week, and to cap it off it was actually really fun to watch the guys come back and score than goal. That was the most excited I've been in a long time - minus two days ago."

Save It For Later - Sunday's game marks the sixth time in 43 games this season that Washington has won a game in which it trailed after 40 minutes of play. Only the Dallas Stars (seven) have earned more wins in that fashion, but the Caps' record of 6-8-1 when trailing after two periods of play is the best in the NHL from a points pct. (.400) perspective.

You Can Leave Your Hat On - The last time the Caps won a game in which a single opponent - in Sunday's case, Kane - scored three or more goals was nearly six years ago, on Feb. 2, 2014 in another wild Sunday matinee - a Super Bowl Sunday game - against the Detroit Red Wings in Washington.

In that contest, Detroit's Gustav Nyquist victimized Washington's Michal Neuvirth for a hat trick, but the Caps prevailed in overtime on an Ovechkin game-winner on the power play.

Down On The Farm - The AHL Hershey Bears completed a clean sweep of a three-in-three weekend and rolled their streak to 13 wins in their last 14 games with a 4-2 win over the Bridgeport Sound Tigers on Sunday at Giant Center.

Brian Pinho got the Bears started with his ninth goal of the season at 4:22 of the first, Matt Moulson and Philippe Maillet assisting. Garrett Pilon netted his eighth of the season with help from Mike Sgarbossa and Bobby Nardella at 16:14 of the first, enabling the Bears to take a 2-0 lead to the room after the first frame.

Less than two minutes after Bridgeport scored to make it a 2-1 game early in the second, Kody Clark responded for Hershey at 5:45 of the middle period, scoring his second of the season from Moulson and Maillet.

Bridgeport closed to within a goal with a late tally in the second, and the two sides played scoreless hockey in the third until Maillet scored into an empty net at 19:27 with a solo assist from Moulson. Both Maillet and Moulson finished the game with three points.

Vitek Vanecek stopped 30 of 32 shots in the Hershey nets, improving to 12-5-1 on the season.

The 21-10-2-3 Bears are in sole possession of second place in the AHL's Atlantic Division, two points behind front-running Hartford. Hershey hosts Hartford on Wednesday night at Giant Center.

Down a level, the South Carolina Stingrays made it a clean sweep Sunday for the Washington organization with a 3-2 win over the Atlanta Gladiators at North Charleston Coliseum.

Mark Cooper, Cameron Askew and Tim Harrison scored for South Carolina, supporting the 34-save efforts of Logan Thompson (12-3-1-0) in the Stingrays' nets.

South Carolina is now 24-4-3-1 on the season, and it maintains a four-points lead - and holds two games in hand - over the second-place Florida Everblades in the league's South Division.

The Stingrays host the Gladiators again on Tuesday night.

By The Numbers - Orlov led the Caps with 26:03 in ice time … Orlov and Vrana led the Caps with four shots on net each … Carlson led the Capitals with seven shot attempts … Eller, Nick Jensen and Jonas Siegenthaler blocked three shots each to pace the Caps … Oshie won four of five draws (80 percent) and Backstrom won eight of 13 (62 percent).

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