When an empty-netter with just over a minute left in Sunday’s matinee gave the San Jose Sharks a two-goal lead, a lot of Washington Capitals fans figured that was it and started to trickle out of the arena.
They should have known better.
“It’s too bad for them,” Capitals winger T.J. Oshie said. “Pretty fun show … at the end there.”
The Capitals forced overtime with two goals in the last minute of regulation on their way to a stunning 5-4 comeback victory.
Even by the Capitals’ standards, this win was unexpected.
Both late third-period goals happened when Washington pulled goalie Braden Holtby — with Jakub Vrana sniping in the first with 47 seconds left and then Oshie drilling the second with 15 seconds remaining.
In overtime, Lars Eller broke free on a 2-on-1 and defenseman John Carlson skipped a perfect pass to the center, who went high-glove side to knock it in past Sharks goaltender Martin Jones.
“That was one of the wildest games I’ve played,” Eller said.
The Capitals have now won nine of their 14 overtime games this season — an NHL best. Washington also leads the league with seven 6-on-5 goals, two of which happened against the Sharks. They’ve also won six of their 15 games in which they’ve trailed after two periods.
On this particular afternoon, the Capitals even overcame a hat trick from Shark winger Evander Kane, whose three goals in the second period put Washington into a 3-2 deficit.
Sunday’s comeback was a “character win” for his team, said Capitals coach Todd Reirden.
“You have to be willing to still stay in it,” Reirden said. “A lot of teams they won’t even bother pulling their goalie then. It’s a minute left, whatever, we just gave up an empty netter. That’s not my philosophy or our philosophy as a team. We’ll take the goal against to never quit in a game.”
Like many Capitals highlights in the Alex Ovechkin era, the win seemed unlikely — until it wasn’t.
Sunday marked the 10-year anniversary of Ovechkin becoming Washington’s 14th captain in franchise history. Back then, he was 24 years old and the third-youngest player in the league to earn the honor. Inside the Capitals, it was an easy choice to make Ovechkin their leader, teammates said, but it was still a surprise when Ovechkin emerged from the tunnel that evening against the Montreal Canadiens with the “C” on stitched onto his chest. Washington announced the move shortly after.
Much has changed for Ovechkin and the Capitals since. Now 34, Ovechkin has been with Washington long enough to shed narratives of whether he’d be able to win it all. In 2018, of course, Ovechkin finally hoisted the Stanley Cup trophy over his head.
“Lots of people said, ‘This organization and this guy is never going to win,’” Ovechkin said Saturday. “So how I say? Suck it. We did it.”
The Capitals honored Ovechkin’s anniversary with a tribute video featuring the Russian’s biggest moments over the last 10 years. When the clip concluded, cameras cut back to Ovechkin, who pounded his fist on his chest and nodded to the cheering crowd to thank them.
Kane scored all three of his goals in the second period, taking advantage of the Capitals’ mistakes on the penalty kill on two. On the other, he caught Holtby off guard as he emerged from the penalty box and fired a shot from the top of the right circle to make it 3-1.
Still, the Capitals hung on and forced their way back in. Down 4-2 with 46.9 seconds left, Vrana scored his second goal of the game by burying one deep in the net. That woke up the crowd, those who opted to stay.
Oshie then blasted a shot from the right face-off circle past Jones. When the winger scored, John Denver’s “Take Me Home, Country Roads” blared over the speakers, the song that plays after every Oshie goal.
But the song was drowned out by the eruption of the crowd.
“The boys just kept on going,” Oshie said. “There really wasn’t one of their goals that really got us down. … We had everyone tugging the rope and when you have that, it’s fun.”