Asked Saturday if he thought it was fair to consider Capitals vs. Blackhawks a Stanley Cup finals preview, Bruce Boudreau didn't want to jump ahead of things. Last year it was, he said, for one of those teams.
But on Sunday afternoon the Caps showed at least glimpses of a team that could make a run this spring with a thrilling 4-3 overtime win over Chicago at Verizon Center that extended their winning streak to eight.
Veteran winger Mike Knuble compared this game in the NHL and NBC spotlight to another national showcase event.
"This was fun. We like our 'Monday Night Football' games. We're on NBC, and it's the NHL's time to shine," he said. "They're fun to play and the afternoon presents a challenge for both teams to get up and get going and play."
Knuble shined brightest at the end of the afternoon, as he scored the game-winner with 1:09 left in overtime, thanks to a nice pass from Marcus Johansson.
"Real heads-up play by Marcus," Knuble said. "It would have been very easy for him to bury his head there and try to jam it through, but I kind of laid my stick to the side, and he put it on the tape. It was a very smart play by him."
It was a hooking penalty on Johansson that sent the Blackhawks on the power play late as Chicago captain Jonathan Toews tied it with 39 seconds left.
Before that, the Caps were dominating the third period — skating up and down on a tired Chicago team worn down and using just four defensemen down the stretch.
"I think overall we were carrying the play," Boudreau said. "We played better than them. I mean it might not happen the next time we play them … but I thought today that we were the better team."
Being the better team for much of the afternoon meant not only outshooting the Blackhawks (42-30) and carrying the play offensively but tightening up against a star-studded team that nine months ago captured the Stanley Cup. With the exception of the Toews power-play goal that forced OT, the Caps forced Chicago to the perimeter — and as Boudreau pointed out, that's how his team manages to win games.
Holtby, who made 27 saves, admittedly wasn't on top of his game but credited his teammates with clearing the puck away from the net
"Today was kind of a battle the whole game," Holtby said. "It was a little tough just trying to make sure that I was keeping myself into it and giving myself the opportunity to make saves and thankfully the guys played a great game, especially defensively, and didn't give up too much."
The entertainment factor was still there, as the teams spent much of the game and overtime going from one end of the rink to the other trading scoring chances. If it didn't match last year's comeback against the Blackhawks, it was still more than worth the attention.
And valuable for the Caps as they go on the road having won a season-best eight in a row.
"We've played some good games. It seems like every game we play is really tight, but they're a really good hockey [team]," forward Brooks Laich said. "Good for the fans to watch, but also nice to come out on top."
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