WINNIPEG, Manitoba — Mike Knuble was already in the penalty box for holding. Then, Brooks Laich sent the puck sailing over the glass from the defensive zone.
Predictably, it was deafening inside MTS Centre as the Winnipeg Jets got set for a five-on-three advantage of 1:39. Already trailing 2-1 in the latter stages of the second period, the Washington Capitals probably would have been toast if they allowed another goal.
But, Tomas Vokoun, Jay Beagle, Matt Hendricks and Karl Alzner simply didn’t. The veteran goaltender and those three skaters stayed on the ice for the entire two-man disadvantage, putting together the most impressive penalty kill of the season.
It was the kind of sacrifice that wins in the playoffs. Even in a game that ended up as a 3-2 loss, it was hard to deny the importance of those shifts.
“It gives us a lot of life,” right wing Troy Brouwer said. “Those guys did a lot of things that no one likes to do: getting down blocking shots, out for long shifts, especially when guys are winding up like Dustin Byfuglien and taking [slap shots] at them.”
“They did a great job blocking. They’re shot-blocking guys. They sacrifice their body,” coach Dale Hunter said. “That’s hard to defend when you’ve got guys shooting the one-timers at 100 miles an hour, it’s going to hurt. They sacrificed for the team to kill it off.”
The Capitals‘ coach explained it as his penalty killers essentially getting a shift off.
“They called that timeout there, it gave us a chance to rest,” Alzner said. “I think once you’re in that groove, you’ve already played it for about a minute, a minute and 10 seconds, you kind of stick with the guys because you know what to expect.”
And know what to do, too. Ultimately, the success of the penalty kill came down to Vokoun making a sliding stick save on forward Blake Wheeler in the final seconds.
“Tomas was big in net,” Hunter said. “Your goaltender has to be your best penalty killer and he was.”
The momentum turned immediately, and Laich drew a penalty before the second intermission. Mathieu Perreault cashed in on the ensuing power play in the third, proving that a great killing shift can be just as valuable as anything else in this game.
“The guys really respect what they did out there,” Brouwer said, “and it gave us a big boost.”