Michael Nylander waited and then waited some more, playing a game of chicken with Nashville Predators goaltender Dan Ellis.
The Swedish center nearly slowed to a halt as he approached Ellis, and when the goaltender dropped to the ice, Nylander calmly lifted the puck with a backhanded shot into the net for the deciding shootout goal in a 4-3 win for the Washington Capitals against the Predators in front of 17,011 on Tuesday night at Verizon Center.
Caps goaltender Jose Theodore stopped Martin Erat with a leg save to seal the victory for Washington, which was playing without reigning league MVP Alex Ovechkin, who is at home in Russia to spend time with his ill grandfather.
“It shows that we’re not a one-man team,” forward Brooks Laich said. “We’ve been criticized of that maybe a couple of years ago, but you can’t say that anymore.”
Alexander Semin had a goal and an assist and scored in the shootout for Washington. With or without his buddy Ovechkin, Semin continued his early season tear.
The two points gave him 16 for the season, two more than Evgeni Malkin for the league lead. Malkin’s Pittsburgh Penguins played late last night at San Jose. His eight goals are tied with Buffalo’s Thomas Vanek and St. Louis’ Keith Tkachuk for tops in the NHL.
Nicklas Backstrom fed Semin with a beautiful diagonal pass on the power play to put the Caps in front 3-2 early in the third period. It was Semin’s sixth multipoint game in nine contests.
“[Semin] has been really, really good all year,” Bruce Boudreau said. “I really believe he is coming of age now. He’s coming out of his shell a little bit. He’s a very quiet guy, but on the ice he’s coming out of shell.”
Jason Arnott rallied the Predators with his second goal of the night at 13:24 to force overtime. Arnott deflected defenseman Ryan Suter’s shot from the right point past Theodore, who made 23 saves for his fourth victory.
It was the third time in the game that the Predators had erased a one-goal lead and the third time in the past four games the Caps have blown a third-period advantage.
“They bounced back,” Laich said. “They outworked us, and we took a couple penalties that let them back in the game, but we were resilient.”
With the score tied at 1-1, the Predators had a chance to grab the momentum when Nylander took a penalty 24 seconds after the equalizer, but Semin and the Caps’ penalty-killers didn’t let them.
Semin began to rag the puck in his own end, and the Nashville players went to the bench for a line change. The Russian right wing sent a perfect pass from the top of the faceoff circle to David Steckel at the far blue line, who broke in behind the new Predators on the ice.
Steckel lost control of the puck as he tried to deke to the backhand, but it trickled through Ellis’ legs and across the goal line for his second marker of the season at 15:38.
It was part of a solid night for Steckel, who was a healthy scratch the previous game in Dallas. Laich replaced Ovechkin on the top line and Steckel moved into Laich’s spot on the second unit. He was awarded the team’s hard hat for his efforts.
How motivated was Steckel?
“Very,” he said. “Anytime you get sat, it is not a good feeling. When I got this opportunity, I wanted to make the most of it. Hopefully I made an impression.”
Viktor Kozlov also scored for the Caps - his first marker of the season. Washington outshot Nashville 19-4 in the first period, but the Predators stayed in the contest by scoring twice on their first seven shots.
When the Predators went on the offensive in the third period, Theodore was at his best to help the Caps reach overtime.
“Every time you have  shots [against] after two periods, I think I would be lying if I said you feel on top of your game,” Theodore said. “In the third, I just kind of said, ‘It’s a one-period game; it’s a 2-2 game.’ And I think in the third, I felt really good. They needed a really fluky goal to get one past me.”