The Washington Capitals secured their first winning streak of the 2012-2013 season in dramatic fashion, defeating the Florida Panthers 6-5 in overtime on Tuesday night. The win gives the Caps two wins in a row for the first time in the 2012-2013 season and was also the first road win of the season for the team, stretching their record to 4-8-1. Washington did not make it easy on themselves however, as the game took on many aspects that have resulted in losses. It followed a formula that offered the Capitals scoring the first goal, early in the first period, only to suffer defensive lapses in the second. However, one key cog that proved to be a difference in the game was the goaltending by Braden Holtby, something that has often been a letdown for this particular hockey club. Despite the score, and the game’s identity that resembled a Caps game from 2009, Holtby proved to battle through bad bounces and tough breaks to come up strong in the games most critical moments. He stood tall on a Panther 2-on-0 breakaway, making a dazzling save that saw him going into the full splits. He also fought back after a controversial fifth goal by Florida that was scored after an inadvertent whistle blew simultaneously as the puck crossed the goal line. But the key story from this game was not Holtby. It was instead the morale and comradery of a team that has folded like a house of cards earlier in the season when it found itself in similar situations this year. It was the notion that this team, down two goals with five minutes to play in the third, battled back for their coach, for each other, and for their dwindling hopes of a successful season.
The game began with a jolt from the Washington Capitals bench. Alex Ovechkin was involved early when a hit on Florida’s Kris Versteeg spawned the games’ first and only fight. It was more of a match between sumo-wrestlers, as both players limited their punches and instead chose to bear-hug until it was broken up by the referees, but, Versteeg’s cross-check to Ovechkin that started the fight, resulted in the Caps’ first power play. Mike Ribeiro, the Caps most potent offensive threat at the moment, found a puck crossing through the low slot area, and knuckle-balled a back hand shot past Scott Clemmensen for the Capitals, giving them the game’s first lead. It wasn’t long, however, as ex-Cap Tomas Fleischmann’s slap-shot deflected off the leg of John Erskine, and past Holtby, tying the game at one. Florida’s Shawn Matthias gave Florida their first lead of the night when he slapped a puck passed Holtby, and the Panthers took a 2-1 lead going into the first intermission.
The Panthers and Caps continued to trade goals and scoring chances throughout the second period. Karl Alzner tied the game at two, scoring on a blast from the left point, his first of the year. It was Florida rookie Jonathan Huberdeau that broke the tie shortly after, redirecting a puck past Braden Holtby, and Matt Hendricks finished with a beautiful backhander, assisted by Alex Ovechkin to tie the game at three. Huberdeau struck again in the second, tapping in his own rebound, giving the home team the 4-3 lead going into the final stanza.
The third period proved to be the most intense, exciting, and if you’re a Caps fan, satisfying. Unfortunately for the Caps, however, things got worse before they got better. a bad break, and controversial officiating, lead to Florida’s fifth and final goal. A puck thrown from behind the net was snagged by Caps net minder Holtby, but he was unable to corral the rebound. The ensuing scramble caused a linesman to blow his whistle seemingly at the same time that Florida’s Drew Shore bat the puck out of mid-air and into the net. After a review, the call, which was originally ruled a goal, stood. Normally in these circumstances, a referee blows the whistle when he loses sight of the puck, and the play is dead, no matter where the puck is. The Panthers lead was stretched to two goals and lead 5-3 with 13:35 to go in the third. the Caps, furious with the call, took out their frustration on their opponents, peppering Clemmensen with nine shots on goal. Eric Fehr got the Caps within striking distance, redirecting a Mike Green shot into the net and injecting life back into the Capitals. On an ensuing power play, the Caps stars shined. Nicklas Backstrom won a face-off cleanly to Mike Ribeiro, who then passed the puck back to Alex Ovechkin who rifled a wrist shot past Clemmensen to tie the game at five and forcing the game to overtime. Troy Brouwer completed the comeback tapping in his own rebound on a breakaway, and the Capitals found themselves victorious in a game that seemed all but over for them. It was a game unlike any of that which the Capitals had found themselves involved in previously this season. It was a one goal game where they captured and early lead, then surrendered it. A game where their goaltending stood tall when they needed it the most. A game where they went 2-3 on the power play. A game where their stars shined brightest when the game mattered most, and a game where they battled through adversity to garner a well-deserved, though sloppy win. Perhaps it is a sign that the bounces are starting to go the right way. The Caps travel to Tampa Bay to take on the Lighting on Thursday night.