Jakub Vrana's goal at 2:51 of overtime enabled the Caps to come back from an early two-goal deficit, giving them a 3-2 victory over the Blues in St. Louis on Wednesday night. The victory spoiled what was otherwise a banner night for the Blues, who raised the first Stanley Cup banner in franchise history to the rafters prior to puck drop.
Caps goalie Braden Holtby was reached for two goals on the first three shots he faced, but both he and Washington's revamped blueline corps settled in and played well the rest of the way. Holtby's save on Ryan O'Reilly's breakaway backhander with 1:36 remaining in regulation enabled the Caps to get a point, and Vrana's overtime strike secured the second one.
Video: Vrana scores in OT as Caps spoil Blues' banner night
"We knew coming into it - having been on the other end of it last year - that there was going to be a lot of emotion and energy in the building," says Caps coach Todd Reirden. "We had to try to withstand their push, because we expected them to come out flying. Just with the extra delay for our team - sitting around waiting - we didn't get off to the best start.
"But we stuck with it. We really managed the puck a lot better as the game went on, and gave ourselves a chance to forecheck, and play in the offensive zone, and eventually grind them down, get it to 3-on-3 hockey, and then get the extra point."
Video: WSH@STL: Vrana scores OT winner for Capitals
The game-winner came seconds after Blues goalie Jordan Binnington stopped Vrana's one-timer from the high slot. T.J. Oshie won the ensuing draw in St. Louis ice, and after taking a feed from John Carlson, Vrana circled high into the zone and knifed his way around the three blue sweaters, buying himself just enough time to launch a shot. Binnington caught a piece with his upper body, but it went in, sending the Capitals on to New York with two points.
"That was obviously good patience in the offensive zone," recounts Vrana. "We really waited for the best shot to take, and then we were there for a long time, so I just felt like I could use my skating and shoot the puck. It was a good job [from] all three of us."
Video: Caps Postgame Locker Room | October 2
When the Caps raised their first Stanley Cup banner last Oct. 3, it took them less than half a minute to score the game's first goal once the puck dropped. T.J. Oshie scored the first of Washington's seven goals at the 24-second mark of the first as the Caps went on to a 7-0 stomping of the Boston Bruins in their season opener.
It took the Blues a bit longer to find the range after their own banner raising on Wednesday night, but it still happened in under a minute. St. Louis winger Sammy Blais found some time and space in the middle of the ice, and linemate David Perron found Blais and fed him perfectly from the bottom of the right circle to make it a 1-0 game just 53 seconds in.
Before the game was eight minutes old, the Blues doubled that lead on another goal that must have looked familiar to the Caps. With Jonas Siegenthaler in the box, newly acquired Blues defenseman Justin Faulk issued a pass from center point, feeding partner Alex Pietrangelo in the left circle. The Blues captain wound up and fired a one-timer past Holtby for a 2-0 St. Louis lead at 7:55. The two right-handed shots combined for a power-play goal that is reminiscent of many the Caps have scored over the years, with John Carlson feeding Alex Ovechkin.
Carlson and Ovechkin combined to get one of those goals back for Washington before the end of the first frame. Carlson carried into St. Louis ice, then dished to Ovechkin on the right side. The Caps' captain juked his way around Blues blueliner Jay Bouwmeester, then sailed a shot past Binnington to make it a 2-1 game at 15:37.
Early the second, the Blues had a small flurry of activity around the Washington net. But Holtby walled off four shots in the first three minutes, and his teammates combined to keep the Blues from generating shot for almost the next 14 minutes. Meanwhile, the Caps tied the game late in a power play of their own.
Lars Eller won a left dot draw in the Blues' zone, pulling the puck back to Nick Jensen at the left point. Jensen went across to partner Dmitry Orlov, who cranked a one-timer past Binnington from the right point at 12:28, with seven seconds left on the man advantage. It was the second power-play goal of Orlov's NHL career, and the second power-play assist of Jensen's career.
Video: Todd Reirden Postgame | October 2
The Blues chances came in bunches the rest of the way, but Holtby had the answer for everything, and the defense found its footing as the game wore on, handling the St. Louis forecheck and breaking pucks out efficiently, especially in the last half of the third. The two points were the most important takeaway for Washington on this night, but there were many pleasing elements in an entertaining game between two good teams.
"We really took it to them," says Carlson of the Caps' play in the second, when they had the Blues mostly stuck in neutral. "I think the forecheck is important for us always; we talked about it after the first. The more we can forecheck, the more tired they'll be and we were playing the puck up quick.
"So that's the recipe for success in the that we've kind of always had and have always been good at - I feel like, anyways - in the second periods. Keeping those guys on the ice for a long time, especially early on in the season - if you get stuck in the [defensive] zone in the first game, wow, it can be difficult."