- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 3, 2018

ANNAPOLIS, Md. — From heavy wind to unexpected darkness, the Washington Capitals battled the elements Saturday as much as they fought the Toronto Maple Leafs in a rare NHL outdoor showcase.

The Capitals topped the Leafs, 5-2, in a game briefly delayed by a blackout in Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium. Five different Capitals scored and Braden Holtby made 27 saves in his first win since Feb. 9.

Washington (37-21-7, 81 points) attacked Toronto’s second-ranked penalty kill in the first period and went 2-for-2 on the power play to build their advantage. By the second period, the Capitals forced the Leafs (39-21-7, 85 points) to yank starting goaltender Frederik Andersen for the first time not related to an injury this season.

It was the 25th NHL regular season game played outdoors and the first played in Annapolis. Washington improved to 3-0 all-time in outdoor games.

Nicklas Backstrom, Evgeny Kuznetsov and John Carlson all tallied three points on a goal and two assists apiece. Backstrom’s points all came in the first period, and he tied a record for most points in one period of an outdoor NHL game.

“You follow your top guys, and I thought tonight you look at Backstrom, Ovechkin and Wilson, that line led, and Kuznetsov followed that,” Capitals coach Barry Trotz said. “And on the back end, I thought our defense core as a group were really solid. And I thought Holts had a real good response, especially in the second period he had a couple of big saves for us.”

Kuznestov struck first on an early Washington power play when he dumped in the rebound off a Backstrom shot. Carlson earned the second assist on the play.

Less than two minutes later, Toronto defenseman Roman Polak took a shot from the right-wing blue line and center Zach Hyman, in front of Holtby, was credited for re-directing it into the net.

The game’s third goal in just six minutes and change came courtesy of Alex Ovechkin, his 40th of the year and 598th career. Tom Wilson knocked the puck out of a scrum behind the net, where Ovechkin stood to slap it in.

This is the ninth NHL season in which Ovechkin has reached 40 goals. Only Wayne Gretzky, Marcel Dionne and Mario Lemieux achieved that feat more.

When the Leafs‘ Dominic Moore was called for a puck-over-glass delay of game — the second such call of the period after Carlson committed the same sin — the Capitals‘ power play scored again. Kuznetsov skated past the net with the puck and fed it back to a trailing Backstrom, who knocked it in past Andersen.

“In the first period we capitalized on our chances on the power play there,” Backstrom said. “It’s always important to have a good response when other teams score. I feel like we fed off the crowd a little bit in the first period and were energized here.”

Up 3-1 at first intermission, the Capitals had to face the wind when the goalies switched sides.

Toronto cut the margin to one goal 7:22 in, when Nazem Kadri sent a shot from the right side that somehow squeezed through a tight space between Holtby’s glove and the post.

Washington pushed the lead back to two after forcing a mid-ice turn-over. First Carlson, then Chandler Stephenson, sent shots on goal. Stephenson’s shot bounced off Andersen’s pads and in front of the crease that the Capitals made it 4-2 with a Carlson putback. His goal survived a coach’s challenge from Toronto’s Mike Babcock seeking a goaltender interference decision on Beagle.

Jakub Vrana joined the party 10:49 into the period. He received the puck on a breakaway and scored his first goal since Dec. 14, causing Babcock to pull Andersen for backup goalie Curtis McElhinney.

Ovechkin, Niskanen and T.J. Oshie had open shots in the final minute of the period, but couldn’t convert on the new netminder, and Washington led 5-2 through two. The Capitals tallied 30 shots through two periods, already higher than their league-worst 28.6 shots per game average entering Saturday.

When 10 minutes had passed in the third and the goalies began to switch ends to nullify any perceived wind-direction advantage, most of the stadium lights went out. For more than 10 minutes, both teams skated around to stay warmed up until the stadium staff brought the lamps back to life.

Backstrom was later asked what went through his mind when the power went out.

“Oh, no,” he deadpanned. “We have to wait?”

But they didn’t have to wait long, and the Capitals controlled the rest of the game from there, stymieing Toronto defensively and forcing some icing calls. Holtby saved back-to-back open shots by Patrick Marleau. He fended off another attack close in the crease with the help of his blueliners.

Washington finished the game with 34 shots to the Leafs‘ 29.

Babcock was disappointed with the Maple Leafs’ effort.

“Obviously we’ve got to regroup,” Babcock said. “We’ll be practicing tomorrow and then the work we didn’t put in today, we’ll be putting in tomorrow and get back on track here.”

Center Auston Matthews, Toronto’s No. 1 overall pick in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft, remained on the injured reserve list for a shoulder injury and didn’t play.

The Capitals‘ first two wins in outdoor games were both Winter Classics on New Year’s Day. They beat Chicago in 2015 and won in Pittsburgh in 2011.


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