- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 24, 2019

In the Washington Capitals‘ first home game in two weeks, defense was optional.

The Capitals gave up a two-goal lead and needed overtime, but Evgeny Kuznetsov scored the deciding goal to deliver a wild 6-5 win over the New York Rangers Sunday afternoon at Capital One Arena.

Nicklas Backstrom scored twice for Washington. Michal Kempny, Tom Wilson and Nic Dowd also had goals, among 15 players who recorded a point for Washington. Pheonix Copley saved 26 shots.

In the final minute of overtime, Alex Ovechkin and Kuznetsov faced just one defender in the offensive zone. Ovechkin wound up to shoot but passed it to Kuznetsov at Henrik Lundqvist’s left flank, and despite an open shot, Kuznetsov passed it back to the captain. Ovechkin fell while reaching for the puck in the crease, but both he and Kuznetsov swept it over the goal line.

Kuznetsov wasn’t surprised Ovechkin passed it his way at the start.

“No, I’m surprised I passed back when it’s empty net,” Kuznetsov said.

After winning just three times in a six-game road trip, the Capitals improved to 35-21-7 (77 points).

“Our team hung in there, never quit, battled,” coach Todd Reirden said. “That game had a little bit of everything in it, for certain. And then, found a way to get the winner.”

Nick Jensen also made his Capitals debut, two days after the Capitals acquired him in a trade from the Detroit Red Wings. The blueliner played 14 minutes, including 2:30 in penalty kill situations, joining fellow recent acquisition Carl Hagelin in assimilating into the Capitals‘ squad in defensive roles.

“It was a fun game. Probably not the way we want to play every game, but it was a great first experience with this team and really get a chance to play with them and see how they play,” Jensen said. “It was a fun game, though. It was exciting.”

The Rangers scored goals 21 seconds into the first period and 21 seconds into the third. Chris Kreider scored their first goal off a zippy backhand pass from Jimmy Vesey across the front of the net. But the Capitals didn’t trail long.

First, Backstrom received a John Carlson pass and scooped it past Lundqvist. On the very next shift, Kempny found open ice in the center lane and scored through Lundqvist’s five-hole.

The Capitals kept it up in the second period on a power play. Lars Eller, Jakub Vrana and Wilson executed a tic-tac-toe move to set up Wilson’s career-high 17th goal of the season. Lundqvist broke his stick over the crossbar in frustration after the third straight Washington goal.

But Brady Skjei cut the lead down late in the second with a wobbling, floating wrister from the blue line that Copley couldn’t track.

Vesey tied it in the third period — a deja vu moment, coming 21 seconds in. The goal looked more like Skjei’s, though, another wing-and-a-prayer from the blue line.

But Washington had a strong response to move ahead 5-3. First, Dowd grabbed a bouncing pass from behind the net and scored on an open shot two minutes after Vesey’s goal. On the next shift, it was Backstrom’s turn again, when he found a loose puck in the left circle and sniped it in.

The Rangers came back with a power-play goal owed entirely to Vladislav Namestnikov’s skate, as the original shot’s change of direction was too sudden and drastic to defend.

The Capitals hung onto their lead until the Rangers pulled Lundqvist, and Skjei scored his second goal of the day in 6-on-5 desperation mode to force overtime.

It’s that time of the season when every point in the standings that teams can get is crucial, and Kuznetsov felt this was an important two points to take.

“Especially always, you give up that late goal, you always feel pretty bad because those two points are really big for us,” Kuznetsov said. “I feel especially today, between one and two points, it will be a huge difference at the end of the season.”

The Capitals return to their home ice Tuesday to face the Ottawa Senators, the NHL’s last-place team.

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