UNIONDALE, N.Y. — If there's one thing the Washington Capitals learned on their recent home stand, it was that some third-period magic can salvage a lost night. This team has proven it's hard to win when not scoring first, but the magic was there at Nassau Coliseum on Tuesday night.
When it seemed over, it wasn't. Not down three in the second or down two going into the third. Instead, Alex Ovechkin and the Caps forged another comeback victory against the New York Islanders, winning 5-4 in a shootout to possibly again save the season.
Again it was talk in the second intermission that helped, but this time the message came not from Dale Hunter.
"We needed to kind of pull our head out of somewhere dark, to say the least. The coaches said a little bit of something, but I think it was the leaders in this room that spoke up," said forward Matt Hendricks, who scored the shootout winner. "And then Ovi was a force tonight with two goals and a big shootout goal for us. Well-deserved win. With a start like that, there's not many times you win in this league. So to come back, it's a gutsy effort."
A loss on Long Island could have made it a long final 12 games for the Caps in their bid to make the playoffs and, ideally, win the Southeast Division. It's hard to excuse giving up valuable points, especially to a floundering Islanders team that had won just three times in 10 games.
For much of the night, the Caps looked like they were going to let this opportunity slide by. Falling behind 2-0, then 3-0, then 4-1, it was hard to envision Washington waking up. Players mostly admitted they came out flat.
"We obviously weren't ready to play tonight," said forward Keith Aucoin, who picked up his first career three-point game. "The first 20 minutes was pretty bad."
But the Islanders are the worst team in the NHL at holding onto a second-intermission lead, and this incarnation of the cardiac Caps has plenty of comebacks on the old resume. Tuesday night's might have been the most impressive.
It started, really, with Ovechkin's net-crashing goal with 53 seconds left in the second period. Too often this season the Caps have been demoralized by last-minute goals (like in the first period against the Islanders) but this one built momentum.
"That second goal by Ovi at the end of the second was huge," Aucoin said. "It kind of catapulted us in the third there."
Dmitry Orlov's highlight-reel goal made it a game in the third, and Ovechkin tied the score with 9:45 left to help send it to overtime. The goals seemed to come with a common theme: going to the net hard.
"If you can't make some pretty plays, you just have to go there and find some dirty plays and dirty goals," Ovechkin said.
With a weekend road trip at the Winnipeg Jets, Chicago Blackhawks and Detroit Red Wings looming, the Caps needed to take advantage of this game. Picking up two points Tuesday allowed the Caps to keep pace with the Florida Panthers, who beat the Toronto Maple Leafs to hold onto the Southeast Division lead.
"It's the kind of situation what we need make a good road trip," Ovechkin said. "We're not going to look how different teams going to play. It's all about us and we have to continue play how we play tonight."
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