EDMONTON | Through 40 minutes Saturday night, the big guns for the Washington Capitals were having little impact at the offensive end and were on the ice for two goals against.
A little, um, pep talk from coach Bruce Boudreau during the second intermission was just the trick. Boudreau challenged his young superstars, and Alex Ovechkin in particular, and he responded with two goals and an assist in the final period as the Caps rallied from a two-goal deficit for a 4-2 victory against the Edmonton Oilers at Rexall Place.
“I think we play embarrassing the first couple periods,” Ovechkin said. “We didn’t do anything. We made them feel pretty good about themselves. We just sit in the room after the second period and Bruce came in and gave us a bad time. It was not a good time for my line.”
This was the team’s 11th road game in the past 29 days, and the travel appeared to be catching up to the Caps. One night after not being able to solve Vancouver’s structured defense, Washington put a lot of shots on Edmonton’s rookie goal Jeff Deslauriers but struggled to sustain pressure.
Boudreau put Alexander Semin back on the top line with Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom to start this game, and they were all minus-2 through two periods. The Caps coach put the trio on the ice to start the final period — a different line had been starting each period — and Ovechkin didn’t waste much time igniting the rally.
“I don’t like yelling at [Ovechkin] but sometimes you can see guys are down and they look tired and they need a little boost,” Boudreau said. “I tried to give it to him and I challenged him.
“The reason [Ovechkin] is the best player on the planet is he’s totally old school. Instead of saying, Oh, woe is me. Why is the coach yelling at me? He took up the challenge and said, Ill show you.”
Ovechkin stuffed one past Deslauriers 32 seconds into the period, and from that point the Caps began to swarm the Oilers. He scored again at 6:37 to level the score at two.
Deslauriers stopped his fist slap shot from the right faceoff circle but the rebound kicked to Ovechkin and he blasted another from a tight angle for his 23rd marker of the season. He’s now one goal behind New York’s Marian Gaborik for the league lead.
It was one of those things where Bruce comes in and inspires us and Alex is our leader, Mike Green said. When he brings it, we follow. Alex raised everybody up tonight.
During the second intermission, Tomas Fleischmann gave rookie goaltender Michal Neuvirth a little encouragement of his own, and then provided the game-winner at 13:13. Fleischmann ripped a one-timer from Mike Knuble for his 14th of the season to tie Semin for second on the team behind Ovechkin.
“The second goal [allowed] was a tough one, but [Fleischmann] comes up to me after the second and he goes, ‘Don’t worry about it — we are going to win this game,’ the netminder said. “And then he did it — it is amazing.”
Backstrom added the insurance tally a little more than three minutes later when he snapped the rebound of a Tyler Sloan shot past Deslauriers for his eighth goal in nine games and 12th of the season.
Neuvirth earned his first victory of the season with 26 saves. His last start, the previous Saturday in Toronto, did not go well — he yielded six goals to the Maple Leafs.
“I thought he did a great job at rebound control and smothering pucks,” Boudreau said. “When you have someone doing a great job at smothering pucks, especially on the road, and you’re winning the faceoffs [Caps won 42 of 72] it really works.”
Shawn Horcoff put Edmonton on the board first after a scoreless opening period. A Jeff Schultz turnover led to a breakaway for Patrick OSullivan.
Neuvirth stopped his attempt, but Horcoff was also behind the Washington defense and no one got back in time. Neuvirth got a leg on Horcoff’s shot but he had backed too far into the net and was beaten at 1:05 of the second.
Andrew Cogliano made it a two-goal lead at the 16:42 mark. After a long sequence in which the Caps could not get the puck out of their own end, Cogliano threw the puck at the net from along the goal line in the left corner. The puck hit Karl Alzner’s skate and fluttered into the net on Neuvirth’s short side.
Then came the Caps rally. It was the fifth time this season Washington has come back from a two-goal margin. This team is also now the fastest to 50 points in franchise history.
“It was good 20-minute game that we played,” captain Chris Clark said. “The first period wasnt bad, but the second was just something we won’t want to continue. In the third period I thought we were awesome tonight.”