Before the cascade of scoring arrived in the third period, the Washington Capitals had Sunday’s game well in hand. They had controlled almost every category — shots, hits, and faceoff wins — and held a four-goal lead early in the final frame.
But then a familiar issue struck. Rangers center Colin Blackwell snuck a shot past goaltender Ilya Samsonov, the first of four tallies from New York down the stretch that turned a blowout into a nail-biter.
Still, Washington has surged to the top of the East Division through its ability to find points even when games appear to be getting out of hand. The Capitals held on for a 5-4 victory at Capital One Arena, closing out a six-game homestand with five wins while securing their 15th victory in their last 18 contests.
“The guys keep finding a way to win and push through it, and I think tonight was another example of that,” Capitals coach Peter Laviolette said. “The third period wasn’t perfect, but we still found another way to win and move forward.”
Washington had struggled against New York earlier this season, dropping three of the previous four matchups while scoring no more than two goals in each of those meetings. And a tight first period seemed to indicate more of the same.
A puck that deflected off winger T.J. Oshie’s face nearly dribbled over the goal line, but defenseman Dmitry Orlov preserved the scoreless period with a lunging sweep of his stick. That near-score was the closest either side came to breaking the deadlock in the opening 20 minutes.
Oshie said he didn’t require stitches, although he suffered a “bunch of little scrapes and some loose teeth dangling around in there.” He soon returned to the ice to play a pivotal role, finishing with two assists and a goal.
A flurry of action in the second period propelled the Capitals to a healthy lead, breaking down the Rangers’ defense at last. Wilson opened the scoring with a rebound goal, cleaning up winger Jakub Vrana’s miss. Then winger Alex Ovechkin continued his hot streak, scoring his 11th goal in his last 11 games.
“Some of the big dogs are really, really carrying us,” Oshie said. “[Evgeny Kuznetsov’s] playing fantastic for us. He’s creating a lot of offense. Ovi, obviously, you see what he’s doing with [Wilson]. Nick [Backstrom], some guys from the back end. We’re finding the net right now and it feels good.”
To wrap up the second period’s action, Wilson batted the puck out of the air and into the back of the net for his second of the afternoon. But despite grabbing a four-goal lead early in the third through Kuznetsov’s tally, New York halved that deficit with two goals in a three-minute span from Blackwell.
The trading goals continued from there, with Oshie redirecting defenseman Justin Schultz’s point shot into the back of the net for Washington before New York broke through again.
First, winger Alexis Lafreniere scored. Then 11 seconds into a power play — Wilson was called for tripping — winger Chris Kreider beat Samsonov on his near side with a redirect. But that would be the last breakthrough for the Rangers, with the Capitals hanging on to another win in what has been a dominant month.
“Obviously, when you get into crunch time here at the end of the year, you can’t be giving up that many goals in the third,” Wilson said. “But that being said, we found a way to win, scored enough tonight.”