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Capitals top Blackhawks to end five-game slide

by Brian Hedger

CHICAGO -- It was the kind of game the Washington Capitals kept believing would come their way eventually, even as the losses began to mount the past two weeks.

Despite trailing the Chicago Blackhawks by two goals Friday at United Center, the Capitals kept pushing and grinding until things started to break their way.

Three goals late in the second period led to a 3-2 win that ended a five-game losing streak.

A pretty goal at 15:03 of the second period by Andrew Burakovsky started the comeback. Marcus Johansson and Joel Ward scored in the last minute of the period, and the Blackhawks couldn't respond.

"We knew if we struck with it in this last little stretch we've had, we were going to get rewarded at some point," said Capitals goaltender Braden Holtby, who made 13 of his 38 saves in the third period. "A game like this is one of them. Obviously we're very happy beating a team the caliber of the Blackhawks, but we realize we've been playing better as of late. We can play better, but it does wonders for your confidence when you can still win games like this."

This game was the precursor to the 2015 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic, which will feature the rematch Jan. 1, 2015 at Nationals Park in Washington, D.C. It should make for good viewing if it's anything like this one.

The Blackhawks (7-6-1) put more shots on goal (40-24) and attempted more shots (66-32), but the Capitals (5-5-3) won for the first time since Oct. 25 at the Calgary Flames.

Chicago took a 2-0 lead on goals by Brandon Saad at 17:12 of the first period and Duncan Keith on a power play 56 seconds into the second.

Burakovsky scored off a 2-on-1 rush created when Blackhawks defenseman Brent Seabrook got caught pinching too far in the offensive zone.

"I thought we played a perfect 35 minutes and we created, or we basically shot ourselves in the foot, with mental mistakes, a couple of plays that are totally unacceptable," Chicago coach Joel Quenneville said. "I think we were doing what we wanted to do. We're coming off a game where we did a lot of things right (a 5-0 win at the Montreal Canadiens on Tuesday) and we have a 2-0 lead and giving up nothing. We make a bad decision [on the offensive end] and it's in our net. And then it's in our net, it's in our net [again] in a matter of time. The last one at the end of the period was tough to give up."


Johansson tied it 2-2 at 19:13 from the right circle after a fortunate bounce from a whiffed shot by Capitals defenseman Matt Niskanen put the puck on his stick. Johansson wheeled around near the right dot and sent a wrist shot toward the net that deflected off Seabrook's stick into a wide opening on the back side.

Ward scored 42 seconds later, tipping a point shot by Niskanen past Crawford with 4.4 seconds left. Washington did a good job suppressing Chicago's attack for most of the third period and then staved off a rally by the Blackhawks in the last couple minutes.

Holtby made six saves in the final 2:33, including a rush down the right wing by Saad and slap shots by Keith and Brad Richards in the last 20 seconds. Keith's shot sailed through traffic and hit Holtby's pads with five seconds remaining, the final shot of the game.

"I think I did a pretty good job of seeing that he was going to shoot it," said Holtby, who allowed four goals in each of his previous three starts. "I just sealed the ice and it hit me, and then I found it after. It's one of those things I've been working on, getting tighter through traffic, and it paid off."

The Blackhawks lost a third straight game at United Center for the first time since the 2011-12 season.

"I don't think it's anything that they took from us as much as it is us letting up and kind of getting away from our pace and giving them chances that we didn't make them earn, so we can't be happy with that," Chicago captain Jonathan Toews said. "I think we just got satisfied for a short amount of time. I think we felt comfortable with our 2-0 lead and it came back to bite us. We can't be happy with that. It's something we need to deal with and learn from right away and not let that happen again."

The Blackhawks, who outshot the Capitals 13-4 in the third period, are 4-6-1 in games decided by one goal, with the San Jose Sharks visiting Sunday.

Washington heads home to finish a back-to-back set Saturday against the Carolina Hurricanes, who defeated the Columbus Blue Jackets 3-2 in overtime Friday for their fourth straight win.

"We've lost a number of games and [played] pretty well," Capitals coach Barry Trotz said. "When things aren't going your way, you sort of don't trust yourself a little bit, confidence-wise. Getting this win, hopefully that will boost our confidence. Carolina's probably already in Washington, playing that early game [Friday], and they're playing really well right now. We've got our hands full."

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