Recalling a victory by his Anaheim Ducks in January, coach Bruce Boudreau noted: “We did it in Caps fashion.” In other words, an improbable comeback.
That used to be the Washington Capitals’ style, turning it on in the third period to snatch two points that looked out of reach. Tuesday felt like old times in that way, as they scored twice in the final 3:29 of regulation, then got an Alex Ovechkin goal in overtime to beat the New York Islanders 3-2 at Verizon Center for perhaps the biggest victory of the year.
“Maybe you look back 20 games from now and it could be a game that sways the season,” forward Brooks Laich said. “You have to take care of business at home, and for 54 minutes, it wasn’t looking very good. We had played well, but the result wasn’t there. Now you’ve got three wins in a row. Now if you can get the fourth one, now you start to get a snowball that can build off and turn into something dangerous.”
It was uplifting for a little while, if nothing else. Islanders goalie Evgeni Nabokov dazzled and did his best Jaroslav Halak impression for much of the evening, making this look like another game after which the Capitals would laud a goaltender’s play as a reason for a loss.
Instead, Nabokov’s 31 saves were a footnote to the two he allowed to Troy Brouwer in the final minutes. Brouwer hadn’t scored in 14 games and had just one since his hat trick Jan. 13. But he scored with 3:29 left and then again with 25.5 seconds on the clock to make anyone who left the arena early regret it and remember the old Boudreau comeback days.
“I’ve been struggling a little bit lately, and it’s nice to break out in such dramatic fashion,” Brouwer said. “Two big points by the team is what’s most important.”
Not just important but essential, as it pulled them into eighth place in the Eastern Conference. A pivotal mid-March road trip — where the Capitals are 11-18-3 — looms, and Washington understands the need to win at home. Letting these two points slip away could have been disastrous, especially knowing that the Southeast Division-leading Florida Panthers were in the process of routing the suddenly hapless Toronto Maple Leafs.
“You can see the out-of-town scoreboard and Florida was winning,” Brouwer said. “So we needed to get two points. It didn’t matter if it took 60 or 65 minutes or a shootout. We had to find a way to get two points.”
So they did so in vintage “Caps fashion,” erasing what had been a frustrating evening and turning it into a time for celebration.
“It’s big. Every game’s big right now,” coach Dale Hunter said. “It’s playoff hockey; we’re all battling. Florida won. So it’s one of those things that we have to win.”
Matt Hendricks wasn’t even around for the heyday of the comeback Capitals, but he knows very well what this team could do. And what it did against the Islanders.
“It was something like the old days,” the forward said.