Furious penalty kill backs Capitals’ 4-3 OT win over Jets

Chimera wins game in extra frame, but 2nd-period PK was pivotal

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By the end of the night, Jason Chimera was the hero in the Washington Capitals’ 4-3 overtime victory over the Winnipeg Jets on Wednesday at Verizon Center.

But long after that goal and this game fade into the abyss of an 82-game season, there will be the enduring memory of an epic five-on-three penalty kill in the second period. For 1:20, the Caps held off the Jets with some of the best short-handed play this group has perhaps ever had, with everyone from Brooks Laich to Mathieu Perreault playing a part.

“I remember getting on the ice, and I saw 1:20 left. Those are times when you want to be on the ice,” Laich said. “You just try to fight and survive that 1:20, and if you can do that, you just eliminate that part of the game — a five-on-three — if you can just get through it and eliminate it where nothing happens, usually you give yourself a good chance to win.”

The penalty kill that began at the 12:14 mark of the second period wasn’t the sole reason the Caps won, but everything about it encapsulated why certain teams are able to succeed in pressure situations.

It was 1:20, but the key span was made up of 45 nerve-wracking seconds. It was the trio of Laich, Matt Hendricks and Jeff Schultz against Winnipeg’s top power-play unit of Andrew Ladd, Nik Antropov, Kyle Wellwood, Zach Bogosian and Dustin Byfuglien.

Right off the bat, things went terribly wrong as Laich broke his stick on the faceoff.

“I was like, what else could go wrong?” goaltender Tomas Vokoun said.

But Laich knew what to do.

“When a stick breaks, the first thing you do is accept it,” he said. “The second thing you do is accept the fact that you’re basically reduced to shot-blocking, so you know that you’re going to go through a little bit of pain. But you can’t fear it and you have to realize you’re on the ice to get a job done. You try to do the best you can. At that point, it’s all about survival and desperation.”

Laich didn’t have a stick, so Chimera joked that the Caps got away with a five-on-two situation.

Meanwhile, Schultz and Hendricks took up space and kept the Jets’ shots to the outside.

“We did a good job of kind of keeping that tight triangle and having our forwards go up and back in the shooting lanes and that’s just kind of my job to try and take up as much space — getting down on my knees and using my stick,” Schultz said.

For 45 seconds, it was a shooting gallery, but Vokoun didn’t crack. The old hockey axiom is that a team needs its goalie to be the best penalty killer — Vokoun wasn’t the best, but that’s only because Laich was so good.

“I don’t know how to explain it, because I try to stay really calm on it,” Laich said. “You play for time and you try not to get out of position. You can’t run around and get too emotional or ramped up because then bad things happen.”

Bad things didn’t happen. Laich didn’t let them happen. He turned into a madman, skating toward Wellwood and ripping the stick out of the Winnipeg forward’s hands. It probably should have been a penalty, but it wasn’t.

“[Laich] was doing anything to stop the puck or stop the guy,” Chimera said. “He was grabbing people, grabbing sticks.”

Laich went to the box for roughing while coming to the defense of teammates in a post-whistle scrum, but the penalty kill continued — with even Perreault making a cameo busting out of the box.

The diminutive forward who saw a total of 18 seconds of short-handed time all last season was out of place at first. But he made it all worthwhile on this 35-second shift by making the smart play and taking a big hit from 6-foot-5, 265-pound Byfuglien. Perreault is generously listed at 5-foot-10, 185 pounds, but him accepting that hit was what this kill was all about.

When the Caps were back to even strength, fans gave them a standing ovation. Laich was glad the crowd appreciated the hard work.

“It got the crowd really engaged in the game,” coach Bruce Boudreau said. It got our bench really up.”

And while it didn’t directly lead to the victory, it was a moment in time that won’t be forgotten if the Caps find a way to do something special this spring.

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