The Detroit Red Wings made their intentions clear from the start Sunday at Verizon Center. If the Washington Capitals were on the power play, Detroit would dedicate one player solely to shadowing Alex Ovechkin to take the NHL's leading scorer out of the equation.
But in overtime, when the Capitals went on the man advantage, the Red Wings could not afford to isolate the star right wing given the four-on-three setup. Ovechkin unleashed his beastly one-timer, blasting a shot past netminder Jimmy Howard for a 6-5 win and two important points for Washington.
It was Ovechkin's 15th career overtime winner, tying him for the third-most in league history.
"He's pretty clutch," Jason Chimera said. "What a good shot. He's our go-to-guy. When we need him, he's there."
The victory moved the Capitals (59 points) within a point of the final wild-card playoff berth in the Eastern Conference, a spot occupied by the Red Wings by virtue of the point they snagged by forcing the chaotic game into overtime.
"Every point right now counts," said Ovechkin, who has 39 goals this season. "I'm pretty sure it's a good two points. Next game we're going to feel pretty better. Everything right now have to work fine for us."
The Capitals lost a two-goal lead three times in the second game of a home-and-home series with the Red Wings. But Sunday's win helps a team that returned from a five-game road trip with three key players unavailable: Mike Green (concussion), Brooks Laich (groin) and Mikhail Grabovski (left ankle).
The Capitals found their offense early, scoring three goals in the opening 20 minutes. Veteran wing Chimera fired the puck into an open net for a 1-0 lead at 4:43.
A little less than three minutes later, Joel Ward beat Howard (22 saves) to his blocker side on the power play to make it 2-0. It was all Capitals at that point — the Red Wings didn't even put a shot on goal against Michal Neuvirth until 8:52 had passed.
But a cross-checking penalty by Connor Carrick helped put the visitors on the scoreboard. Gustav Nyquist, who would finish with a hat trick and an assist, scored on the power play with 11:40 gone in the opening period.
"With the penalties, it just gives other teams momentum," Ward said. "When we put the foot on the gas and take it to them, we're a really good hockey club, and sometimes we make our own mistakes with the odd penalty or something like that, just a turnover that kills us a little bit and gives the other team momentum."
The Capitals rebuilt their lead in relatively short order, though, with a power-play goal from John Carlson.
Detroit pushed early in the second, and Neuvirth (25 saves) thwarted quality scoring chances until the defense eroded.
The Red Wings' deft passing was on display in a perfect breakout rush. Tomas Tatar hit a shot off Neuvirth's blocker and into the net to make it 3-2 at 13:30. Nineteen seconds later, Ward answered for the Capitals to make it 4-2. It was Ward's 17th goal of the season, tying his career high.
But the Capitals can't seem to get out of their own way. Troy Brouwer took a neutral-zone slashing penalty that led to Nyquist's second goal, which put Detroit within one heading into the third period. Forty-two seconds into the third, Nyquist tied the game at 4.
The teams traded goals once more before regulation expired. Brouwer pushed the Capitals ahead, and Justin Abdelkader answered to make it 5-5.
But ultimately, Ovechkin turned an error-ridden game into a happy result.
"It was a huge goal in overtime for us; if we come out of that game without two points I think we're pretty dejected and guys are questioning again," Chimera said. "It was a big two points."
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