SUNRISE, Fla. | If there was any kind of rush to beat the traffic at a half-full BB&T Center on Tuesday night, Florida Panthers fans could have easily flooded to the exits with six minutes left. The Washington Capitals trailed by two goals and were floundering amid a torrent of mistakes.
Then Eric Fehr scored, followed by Alex Ovechkin less than three minutes later. On a night of weird bounces, the Caps forced overtime and emerged with a wild, much-needed 6-5 victory.
“This is just perfect for us,” center Mike Ribeiro said. “It was a huge game, division game, and that’s a good boost for us. We know we’re playing better and it’s a matter of keep pushing like this. This just shows character for us.”
This one had warts, like brutal play in the defensive zone and enough turnovers to make coach Adam Oates talk about the need for the Caps to take care of their own end. It’s stuff they’ll address Wednesday.
But Tuesday night players on the NHL’s last-place team allowed for the justification that they’ll take two points any way they can get them. This was Washington’s first road victory and the first winning streak of the season.
“We’ve had a lot of games where we’ve given away points and no games where we’ve stolen points,” said right wing Troy Brouwer, who scored the overtime game-winner. “Even though we gave them one, it’s still nice to be able to battle back. … [We were able to] ultimately steal two points where it didn’t look like we were going to get any.”
The Caps improved to 4-8-1 and have nine points. They’ll need more to climb out of the basement, but coming away from this game at the Panthers with none would have been disastrous.
It looked like that would happen when Drew Shore gave Florida a 5-3 lead with 13:35 remaining in the third period.
“Third period, it’s a do-or-die situation for us,” Ribeiro said. “It’s a big game and we felt like we were getting better as the game was going and just to keep doing the right thing, put pucks deep, forecheck, create turnovers and never quit.”
Fehr’s goal, a redirection of defenseman Mike Green’s shot from the blue line, got the Caps within striking distance. And when Florida phenom Jonathan Huberdeau (two goals) took a slashing penalty, Ovechkin needed just four seconds to beat goaltender Scott Clemmensen and tie the score.
“We don’t stop the play, they get the lead two goals and we know we have to make some changes,” the captain said. “We just push it and push it. Fehrsie’s was a big goal, and the power play works.”
By that point the Caps looked like a team determined not to let points slip away. A late high-sticking call on Mathieu Perreault didn’t cost them, and Brouwer set off quite the celebration just 32 seconds into overtime.
“Obviously every win’s important, and to stay with it for 60 minutes is something we talk about all the time,” Oates said. “And we saw it was going to be one of those kind of nights where goals were going in and just to stay with the program and fight through the mistakes, and they did it. And good for them, and obviously it’s a good win for us.”
Problems abounded, and goalie Braden Holtby cited the need to play better because if the Caps repeat this performance “against one of the top teams, it’s real ugly.”
These two points could be considered ugly, or, in Ribeiro’s words, a “good lesson” to learn about plugging away and doing the right things.
“This one will do huge things for us because of the character it took to come back,” Holtby said. “This win will do us wonders in the long run.”
In the short run, it keeps Washington from losing ground in the Eastern Conference. With just 35 games left, coming up empty against Florida would’ve left plenty of room for regret.
Instead, there were a few moments of nostalgia, as Fehr said this comeback reminded him of the “old Caps,” when no deficit was too big to overcome. Hyperbole or premature as that notion is, it’s hard to argue that these Caps needed a comeback like this.
“This was a must win for us, with Florida being down in the standings like we were we had to get two points,” Fehr said. “I think it’s a confidence builder for us.”