WASHINGTON – The Capitals overcame controversial calls and a high hit that briefly forced center Evgeny Kuznetsov to leave the game to beat the Colorado Avalanche 4-3 in overtime on Thursday.
It was the Capitals’ third win in four games after the All-Star break. They had lost seven consecutive games going into the break, so the turnaround may be a sign that the reigning NHL champs are solving their problems in time for another bid for the Stanley Cup.
“There was some adversity and some tough things that didn’t go our way but we stuck with it and ended up getting rewarded at the end of the game,” said head coach Todd Reirden.
Nicklas Backstrom appeared to score a goal in the first period but it was waived off after the referees concluded they had blown the whistle before the puck went into the net, even though the puck was still loose in the crease.
Early in the second period, backup goalie Pheonix Copley let in a goal from a bad angle but the Capitals challenged the play as offside. Even though replays appeared to show the play was offside, the call on the ice stood and the Capitals were assessed a penalty for losing the challenge. They managed to kill the penalty and keep the game tied.
Copley let in another goal from a bad angle, allowing the Avalanche to tie the game with 2:07 remaining in the third period. He bounced back, making some clutch saves in overtime, including a game-saving stop off a one-timer.
“That’s probably one that Pheonix (Copley) would like to have back, but it’s a team game,” said Reirden. “I loved how our team rallied behind it. We just kept going. That’s a sign of a veteran team that deals with adversity and pushes forward.”
Copley agreed and praised his teammates for still finding a way to win the game.
“I’ve just got to make those saves,” said Copley. “A late goal like that and the guys still battle and finish it, so it’s a great character win for us.”
The Capitals came into the game looking for role players to contribute and they got that from winger Andre Burakovsky, who got the Caps on the board in the first period.
“I’m just trying to do the best I can every game whoever coach is putting me out there,” said Burakovsky. “We’ve been talking a lot about how you have to deserve your ice time and I think I’ve been battling.”
The Capitals also got a goal from a defenseman when Matt Niskanen buried a shot off a rebound early in the third period.
Despite the win, Niskanen was frustrated that the Avalanche were able to score late and tie the game.
“We’ve been pretty good with that over the last couple of years but lately a few have slipped away, so we’ll address it,” he said.
“We’ve been defending better and the offense is starting to come again,” said Niskanen. “It seems to me that our structure is fine. We just need to be a little more desperate as the clock is winding down.”
Despite allowing a goal late in the third period, the Capitals got a big boost from winger Tom Wilson, which they carried into overtime.
When Avalanche defenseman Ian Cole’s high hit away from the puck left Kuznetsov shaken up in the third period, Wilson immediately jumped in and challenged Cole. Wilson also fired up the crowd after landing some big punches when Cole obliged and dropped the gloves. Cole was assessed a game misconduct for the hit.
Kuznetsov got his own revenge on Cole and the Avalanche when winger Alexander Ovechkin sprung him on a breakaway and he slid the puck past former Capitals goalie Semyon Varlamov to win the game.
“We all know Tom plays physical,” said Kuznetsov. “When (expletive) like that happened he stood up, and it’s always nice to have a guy like that.”
The Capitals got contributions from their stars in Ovechkin and Kuznetsov, but role players also stepped up in the Capitals victory.
“We battled through some things that didn’t go our way, and there was no quit, and we found a way to get two points,” Reirden said.