BOSTON — It wasn’t bad enough that the Washington Capitals skated a player short for much of the game. It wasn’t bad enough that they lost starting goaltender Tomas Vokoun to injury in the first period. Then they had to go and blow a two-goal lead late in the third as what could have been a sure victory over the Boston Bruins devolved into uneasy chaos.
But whatever sickness was caused by all that Thursday night at TD Garden was cured quickly with an almost unbelievable 3-2 shootout victory that means everything for the Caps with just four games left in the regular season.
“We’re back on track,” captain Alex Ovechkin said. “Right now, pressure is on Buffalo and different teams [hopefully are] going to help us little bit. Sometimes, you don’t look at the standings. Right now, you have to look in the standings and see what’s going on. We’re happy we take two points and we take big step, I think.”
A big step in crazy, roller-coaster fashion.
Even early on it was a memorable night because of Jason Chimera’s five-minute major and game misconduct for charging Boston’s Adam McQuaid, and because Vokoun appeared to aggravate a nagging groin injury very late in the first period.
Then the Capitals put things into cruise control after taking a 2-0 lead in a span of 1:55 of midway through the third period, and it cost them as the Bruins broke through late (two goals in 1:54) and forced overtime.
After Ovechkin missed an empty net in overtime, it took Matt Hendricks, Alexander Semin and Brooks Laich scoring in the shootout to get Washington two crucial points.
“We faced as much adversity as a team probably can in a game: a five-minute penalty kill in the first period, we lose our starting goalie, we give up a two-goal lead and we still pull out with a win,” Laich said. “I’m proud of our guys. I’m really proud of them.”
The fashion in which the Caps did it wasn’t perfect, but they got everything they needed: One victory, a huge start on the way to getting back in the playoff picture, and even an overtime loss by the Florida Panthers that cut the Southeast Division lead to four points.
The Capitals (86 points) are still in ninth place in the Eastern Conference because they’ve played one more game than the eighth-place Buffalo Sabres (86 points), but that didn’t cause too much pause in a happy, relieved locker room.
“We knew we had to win,” said center Marcus Johansson, who had a goal and an assist. “I think we had a couple chances to end it in overtime, too. They did as well. It was strong of us as a team to win.”
It was the kind of bounce-back performance that made more than just Laich proud.
“This is the heat; everybody likes playing in the heat,” coach Dale Hunter said. “It’s playoff hockey. Like I keep saying, that’s what it is in playoffs. A team comes back late in a game, forces overtime and you never know what happens. You always say that team has momentum to win the game, but sometimes it doesn’t turn out that way.”
Didn’t turn out the way anyone expected when the Capitals took control of the game. And of course, they could’ve made it easier on their coach.
“Oh yeah,” Hunter said. “I’m gray enough.”