- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 5, 2019

It was strange, if you really analyze it: The biggest fan favorite inside Capital One Arena might have been wearing a visitor’s jersey.

Fans have shown, with their No. 83 jerseys, that Jay Beagle is one of the most beloved modern-day Washington Capitals, current or former. The friendly-faced fourth-liner was back in town for the first time Tuesday since signing elsewhere in free agency.

Washington honored Beagle with an in-game video tribute, then contained his new squad in a 3-2 win over the Vancouver Canucks.

The Capitals (29-18-6, 64 points) have won two of three games since the All-Star Break — ever since they ended a seven-game losing skid — and they’ve climbed to second place in the division.

T.J. Oshie, Brett Connolly and Jakub Vrana scored goals for Washington. Evgeny Kuznetsov had two assists and Braden Holtby saved 30 shots.

Vrana’s was the deciding goal, and it took an unconventional path: He chipped a would-be pass up from behind the net, but it bounced on the top of the net, again off the goaltender’s back and in for a goal.

The Capitals played a video tribute for Beagle early in the first period that highlighted his many moments over his 11 years in the organization, including some time with the AHL Hershey Bears.

Beagle said that the sentimental video “kind of set me back for the rest of the first (period).

“They planned that,” he joked. “That’s on them. That was dirty of them. That was dirty. No, I regrouped.”

The Capitals looked strong out the gate and notched the first goal just three minutes in. Oshie scrapped for a steal in the Canucks‘ zone and tapped the puck to a sprinting Alex Ovechkin. The captain carried it behind the net and set up Nicklas Backstrom for a shot. It was stopped, but Oshie followed in the rebound for his 16th goal of the year.

“That’s something I’ve been trying to get in my game here this last little bit, is starting to wear teams down,” Oshie said. “Myself, (Ovechkin), Tom (Wilson), Devo (Smith-Pelly), those are areas where we can kinda take charge and build some momentum from some physicality. Eventually that’s gonna open up some more room for us to make plays.”

Washington outshot Vancouver 18-5 in the first period, but the Canucks‘ offense got rolling in the first half of the middle frame and produced some more. Before long, top-line center Bo Horvat earned a penalty shot by dangling around rookie Jonas Siegenthaler on his way toward the net and getting Siegenthaler to hook him.

But Holtby stonewalled Horvat’s penalty shot in one of many audience-galvanizing moments of the night.

Coach Todd Reirden chalked up the win to stellar defense and Holtby’s goaltending in particular.

“When we did break down or make mistakes, (Holtby) was able to make great saves for us and the penalty shot is a huge, huge turning point in that game,” Reirden said.

It remained a 1-0 game through the second intermission and into the third. Evgeny Kuznetsov sent a pass Connolly’s way in front of the crease, but it ricocheted between a Vancouver defenseman’s skates. Connolly spotted the puck and popped it in, which finally gave the Capitals a bit of breathing room on the scoreboard.

The two-goal margin lasted less than three minutes. Markus Granlund scored for the Canucks by tipping an Antoine Roussel pass over Holtby’s shoulder.

But the Capitals got what turned out to be their go-ahead goal off the Vrana’s unlikely play. The Czech stood directly behind the net and flipped the puck up, looking for Kuznetsov. Instead, it bounced on the roof of the net. Kuznetsov swatted at it hoping to change its direction, but it wasn’t needed: The puck bounced off the back of Vancouver goalie Jacob Markstrom and landed behind him in the net.

“I was so excited when I saw the puck go flying like that,” Kuznetsov said. “You can’t really do anything but (it went in). I tried to hit puck, but I missed twice. I feel like I’m not good at baseball game.”

“It’s just a (crappy) bounce in a (crappy) time of the game in a (crappy) time of the year,” Markstrom said.

The crazy play ended a nine-game goal drought for Vrana.

The Canucks added a sixth skater late and their star rookie, Elias Pettersson, scored at 6-on-5 with 7.6 seconds left. But Washington held on from there.

The Capitals‘ longest homestand of the season is now half-over. They play three more games over the next six days, resuming Thursday against the Colorado Avalanche — when another former Capital, Philipp Grubauer, will pay a visit.

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