If there is one thing that defines a championship-caliber team, it’s having the ability to win a variety of ways.
The Capitals have been that team this season. After the top two forward lines fueled a pair of incredible comebacks over the Tampa Bay Lightning and New York Rangers on Friday and Sunday, the Caps relied on their backup goaltender and foot soldiers to pull out a gutsy 2-1 win Monday night in Raleigh.
Fourth-line center Michael Latta and third-line left wing Jason Chimera each scored goals in the Caps’ 2-1 win over the Carolina Hurricanes, while Philipp Grubauer turned back 31 shots and Matt Niskanen blocked eight shots.
“It can’t be the power play and the top six guys every game,” said third-line center Jay Beagle, who won 14 of 18 faceoffs, including a draw that led to Chimera’s goal, and blocked three shots, including a big one in the final minute while the Caps were killing a 6-on-4.
“Latts gets us going with a big goal and we get one off the draw. It’s nice when we’re chipping it. To be successful down the road we’ve got to have the third and fourth lines chipping.”
That Caps are now 13-0-1 this season when a member of the third or fourth line scores a goal.
“We need to get goals from everybody, all lines,” Caps coach Barry Trotz said. “Latts got us going and Chimmer with a timely goal. And we showed a big commitment. Osh (T.J. Oshie) was very questionable for today and he had some big blocks.”
In the closing minutes, Niskanen, Oshie and Beagle sacrificed their bodies as the Caps finished with 27 blocks from eight different players.
“It’s huge when guys block shots,” said Grubauer, who earned his second straight victory after relieving Braden Holtby in Friday night’s comeback win over Tampa. “Osh at the end takes one in the belly. Beags jumped face first into shot. It’s helping us out.”
The Caps were scrambling because they took a too-many-men penalty on a line change, prompting the Canes to pull goalie Cam Ward for the final 2 minutes.
“I disagreed on that and even the league said it wasn’t a great call by the linesman,” Trotz said. “But the guys were willing to put themselves at risk. They showed high commitment and they got it done.”
When the Caps were not blocking shots, they were trying to move the Hurricanes out of the Grubauer’s sight lines.
“Grubs was really sharp,” Capitals coach Barry Trotz said. “There were a lot of quick plays through traffic and he was really active. He allowed us to get our feet under us.”
With three games in four nights in the rear view mirror, several Capitals admitted they lacked the same energy on Monday that they had on Friday, when they rallied from a 3-0 deficit, and Sunday, when they came back from a 3-1 score.
“The last two games we had to come back from big deficits and those games are emotionally draining,” Trotz said. “You have to be mentally really strong. I thought in the second period we did a better job than the first. And in the third we spent too much time in our end. We got away from our forecheck.”
And now the Caps can breathe a big sigh of relief. They have won six in a row and are tied with the Dallas Stars for the NHL lead with 52 points as they enjoy a four-day break in the schedule.
“Coming from behind in those game was huge for our confidence,” Beagle said. “That’s almost a turning point for a team. Not to say we weren’t playing good, but when we won that game (against Tampa) the confidence was up and the fun level was up. We’re rolling here and now we get a nice break.”