Comeback Story - Late in the second period of Friday night's game in Vancouver, the Caps found themselves down 5-1 to the Canucks, who were undefeated on home ice (3-0-0) coming into the contest. Washington was playing its second game in as many nights while the Canucks had been sitting idle since Tuesday.
Not only did the Canucks score three times in the second period to open up that 5-1 lead, they held the Caps without a shot on net for more than 10 minutes in the back half of the middle frame.
A comeback didn't look likely at all at that juncture, but the Caps did come back to upend the Canucks in a shootout, 6-5. The spark for that unlikely comeback came in the final ticks of the second period when the Caps broke the puck out of their own end of the ice and went 200 feet to score the first goal of the comeback with three-tenths of a second left on the clock.
Lars Eller broke it out and set it up, and Radko Gudas made a play in the corner to keep control. Evgeny Kuznetsov scored from in front, taking his time to line up the shot and pick his spot, without taking too much time.
Kuznetsov's goal came on Washington's first shot on net in 10 minutes and 34 seconds, enabling the Caps to go to the room down three instead of four.
The third didn't start well for Washington. Sixty-eight seconds in, Jakub Vrana was sent to the box for a hi-sticking penalty in the offensive zone. But less than a minute later, Eller tucked a soft shot through Canucks goalie Jacob Markstrom, after taking a feed from Garnet Hathaway in the corner. Vancouver scored a shorthanded goal in the first, and now Washington's third-period shorty made it a 5-3 game with more than 18 minutes remaining.
Just after exiting the box, Vrana hit the post with a shot off the rush.
Ahead of the five-minute mark of the third, the Caps made it a one-goal game with a forechecking goal. Kuznetsov and Carl Hagelin put some heat on the Canucks below their goal line, and Hagelin fed Michal Kempny at the point. Kempny walked it toward the middle, found a lane and fired a shot past Markstrom to make it a 5-4 game at 4:57, exactly three minutes after Eller's goal.
Less than three minutes later, it was Kempny again. Travis Boyd fed him at the left point, and Kempny fired, but J.T. Miller sprawled out to block. Not to worry, Kempny collected the puck and teed up another, beating Markstrom to tie the game at 5-5. After going more than 10 minutes without a shot on net, Washington scored four times on just five shots in a span of 7:42 to knot the score.
"You always believe," says Kuznetsov. "It doesn't matter how games go. You always believe you will be better next period. I feel like these type of moments, they build the team spirit and build the team together. That's a huge two points for us. To come back from 5-1, that means a lot for guys inside the team. We stick to each other, we stay with the game plan. Even if the game is not going well, we give up some bad goals or whatever, but we stick with the plan, and now we get the results."
Five Alive - Friday's comeback victory marks the fifth time in Washington's franchise history that the team overcame a four-goal deficit to win. The previous instances:
- Dec. 15, 1979 in a 5-4 win over the New York Rangers at Capital Centre - Five different Caps scored five goals in a span of 11:45 to erase a 4-0 New York lead after 40 Paul Mulvey scored the game-winner with 5:14 left.
- Feb. 2, 1986 in a 5-4 win over the Whalers in Hartford - Caps score five goals - two of them on the power play - in a span of 17:11 in the third to erase a 4-0 deficit after 40. Craig Laughlin scored the Caps' first goal early in the third, Bobby Carpenter scored twice, and Larry Murphy netted the game-winner with 1:15 left.
- Oct. 23, 1991 in a 6-5 win over the Oilers in Edmonton - Down 4-0 early in the second, the Caps got this comeback started early, on Michal Pivonka's goal at 9:42 of the second. It was the first of five unanswered from Washington - including two from Dino Ciccarelli - and Dmitri Khristich won it with a power-play goal with 2:08 left.
- Dec. 23, 2008 in a 5-4 overtime win over the Rangers at Madison Square Garden - Playing their final game before the NHL's holiday break, the Caps trailed 4-0 in the second before Alex Ovechkin got them on the board at 12:35 of the middle period. Tomas Fleischmann and Viktor Kozlov scored power-play goals in the third, and Ovechkin tied the game with his second of the night at 12:38 of the third. In the first minute of overtime, Shaone Morrisonn won it for Washington, scoring one of his 11 career goals on his 26th birthday. Morrisonn also wore No. 26.
Step Right Up - Throughout the first dozen games of the season, John Carlson and Alex Ovechkin did a lot of the heavy offensive lifting for the Capitals. Carlson rolled up 21 points (five goals, 16 assists) and Ovechkin netted a team high nine goals in Washington's first dozen games.
Neither of those stalwarts had a point in Friday's game, but Kuznetsov, Kempny, Eller and others stepped up to fill the void.
"John has carried us for a long time," says Caps coach Todd Reirden. "And it was great to see Michal Kempny get rewarded, shooting the puck really well with net front traffic.
"What happens in these back-to-backs - and we talked about it - is that you need to have other guys step up. When the game goes into overtime - the Edmonton game - we had to overplay some of our guys. They're tough minutes, chasing around Connor McDavid all night, and then having to deal with [Vancouver's Brock] Boeser and [Elias] Pettersson and these guys all of the time. It's not easy, so you need to have depth through your lineup, and we certainly showed it tonight."
Four Straight - Caps goalie Ilya Samsonov gamely hung in after being dented for three goals in the second period. He made some strong stops in the third and outdueled Markstrom in the shootout to win for the fourth time in as many starts at the outset of his NHL career. Samsonov has been saddled with one loss, but that came in a relief effort.
"That's an amazing experience for a rookie goaltender to go through that," says Reirden. "Down 5-1 on the road, they converted on some mistakes by us. We talked about it between periods as coaches, we felt like we got some momentum from the late goal [in the second], but he still made some big saves. He certainly made some big saves in the third and in overtime, and then great to see him in the shootout.
"But he just looked so comfortable and confident back there. Give up a goal or doesn't give up a goal, it doesn't really change how he acts, which is something that's a rarity for young goaltenders. It's a special presence that he has, and he's got a really bright future ahead of him."
Red October - The Caps are now 8-2-3 in October with one game to go. They've matched the franchise record for most wins (eight) and points (19) in the season's first month. Both of those marks were established in 2009-10 when Washington went 8-2-3 in October on their way to a 121-point season and the first of three Presidents' Trophies.
By The Numbers - Carlson led the Caps with 25:27 in ice time and five blocked shots … Kuznetsov led Washington with seven shots on net and 10 shot attempts … Hathaway led the Caps with six hits … Eller won nine of 14 face-offs (64 percent).