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Capitals make statement against Blues in opener

2018 Cup winners finish comeback in overtime against defending champions

by Tom Gulitti @TomGulittiNHL / Staff Writer

ST. LOUIS -- In the season-opening showdown between the past two Stanley Cup winners, the 2018 champions showed the reigning champions they have plenty left.

The St. Louis Blues rode the emotion of their Stanley Cup banner raising to an early lead, but the Washington Capitals made a bit of statement with a 3-2 overtime win at Enterprise Center on Wednesday.

Jakub Vrana scored 2:51 into overtime for Washington, which trailed 2-0 less than eight minutes into the first period.

"It's a tough game to come into to start the season: on the road, all the emotion," Capitals defenseman John Carlson said. "This wasn't a regular regular-season game for this building, and rightfully so, against a really good team. They won last year and they're just as good this year.

"So not a layup to start by any means, and I like how we did."

Video: WSH@STL: Vrana scores OT winner for Capitals

It was the second time in the NHL modern era, which began in 1943-44, that the two previous Stanley Cup champions played each other in their first regular-season game. It's the first since the Toronto Maple Leafs defeated the Chicago Blackhawks 3-1 to open the 1962-63 season.

The Capitals know what the Blues will face this season trying to repeat, and the emotions and energy St. Louis was dealing with Wednesday after the ceremony.

St. Louis coach Craig Berube acknowledged it would be special for the fans to celebrate again the Blues' first championship in their now 52-season history, but he wasted no words talking about what he'd be thinking about while watching the banner get raised.

"Just the game. That's it," Berube said. "It's a great thing, but we've got a game to play."

That approach seemed to serve the Blues early. They took a 1-0 lead 53 seconds into the game on a goal by Sammy Blais.

Video: WSH@STL: Blais finishes Perron's excellent feed

It was similar to the Capitals' start following their banner raising last season, when T.J. Oshie scored 24 seconds into that game and they went on to defeat the Boston Bruins 7-0. Washington appeared headed for a similar loss when Alex Pietrangelo's power-play goal increased the St. Louis lead to 2-0 at 7:55.

Washington captain Alex Ovechkin helped stem that momentum, scoring with 4:23 remaining in the period. Dmitry Orlov made it 2-2 at 12:28 of the second period.

"We knew there was still lots of hockey left," Ovechkin said. "We get one, then we knew we have to get another one, and [Orlov] put it right away. It was a big goal."

Video: WSH@STL: Ovechkin scores in season opener

By then, the Capitals were imposing their will in a game between teams that like to play a grinding, physical style. During a stretch of 13:44 in the second period, Washington outshot St. Louis 14-0.

"After watching them play too much hockey last year and we weren't, I saw a blueprint for success that's very similar to the one our team had the prior year when we were able to win the Stanley Cup," Capitals coach Todd Reirden said. "They play a heavy game. They go to the net hard. They get pucks through from the blue line and turn a lot of scrums around the net into offense, and when they do get in on the forecheck, they're heavy with it.

"So I think we just did a little bit better job of being able to wear them down when we were playing in the offensive zone and at least took some of the steam out of their group."

Video: WSH@STL: Orlov unloads one-timer on power play

It was a frustrating night for St. Louis after it began with so much excitement. The Blues next play Saturday against the Dallas Stars, a Central Division rival that took them to double overtime of Game 7 in the Western Conference Second Round.

"Getting a point out of that, with all the emotions that were going on, I think it's a good point," St. Louis center Ryan O'Reilly said. "But, again, it's not good enough. It's a good realization that, yeah, we have to go back to work."

The Capitals, whose attempt to repeat ended with a seven-game loss to the Carolina Hurricanes in the Eastern Conference First Round last season, gave themselves reason to believe they remain one of the elite teams in the NHL.

"For us, we fell short," Oshie said, "and this is the start of a new journey to try to get the Cup back."

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