While we wait for the NHL to hopefully resume its season, NBC Sports Washington is looking back at the 20 best wins of the Capitals' season so far. Mark Zaner, producer for Caps Faceoff Live and Caps Overtime Live, has watched every game. His rankings continue with No. 1, a 6-4 win over the New York Islanders on Jan. 18 that featured a premature celebration.
You can re-watch the game tonight on NBC Sports Washington at 8pm.
The very best Capitals win this season started like so many Caps games do…with an Alex Ovechkin goal. But the Islanders responded quickly and often after that. New York scored twice in the first and twice in the second to lead 4-1 after 40 minutes.
Washington got on the board quickly in the third. Richard Panik and Carl Hagelin combined for a typical grind-it-out, third-line goal. Hagelin scored only his third goal of the year by being in front of the net at the right time.
Just moments later, John Carlson’s two-line pass sent Ovechkin into the zone with a head of steam. Scott Mayfield was in good defensive position, but Ovechkin curl-and-dragged through Mayfield’s legs and managed to get enough of the puck to beat former teammate Semyon Varlamov. I nominate this as Ovechkin’s best goal of the season. It also moved him past Mario Lemieux into 10th place on the all-time scoring list.
Barry Trotz called his timeout after Ovi’s goal and it seemed to calm down the Islanders. The score was still 4-3 with less than six minutes remaining. But the Caps tied the game on an innocent-looking slapshot from Dmitry Orlov. He shot into a crowd of players in front of Varlamov and the puck found its way in. The goal would later be credited to Tom Wilson.
Instead of trying to secure at least a point, the Capitals kept the pressure up. Josh Bailey coughed up the puck near his own blue line and right to Jakub Vrana. Vrana’s wrister surprised Varlamov and the Caps led with just 2:30 remaining.
Ovechkin added an empty-netter in the final minute for another hat trick. Washington scored five unanswered goals in the third and won 6-4.
The moment most Caps fans remember occurred after Devon Toews scored the Islanders’ fourth goal of the afternoon. Toews decided to mock Evgeny Kuznetsov’s “bird” celebration with one of his own. It seemed like a good idea at the time with the Islanders up three. In retrospect, it was a bad decision by Toews. The Capitals didn’t talk a lot about it after the game, but you know they saw it and it may have added a little fuel to the fire in the third period.
WHY IT WAS SIGNIFICANT
For Ovechkin, not only did he pass Lemieux on the all-time scoring list, his empty-netter tied Steve Yzerman for ninth on the list with 692. This was his second consecutive game with a hat trick, the third time in his career he’s achieved that. It also gave Ovechkin eight goals in a three-game span.
For the Capitals, they went into the All-Star break on a three-game winning streak. All three wins came in the Metropolitan Division. Washington checked into the break with a 33-11-5 record and the most points in the NHL.
WHAT WE WERE TALKING ABOUT
The theme of the Capitals season has been comebacks. On one hand, you’re tempting fate falling behind constantly. It gives you a false sense of security that it doesn’t matter if you fall behind by a goal or two. Trying to continuously rally is not a sustainable way to win games, especially in the Stanley Cup playoffs. But this team has shown that it is comfortable playing catchup. The Caps have a winning record when allowing the first goal and they’ve outscored opponents by 21 in the third period.
Was this their best comeback of the season? You can weigh in on that here on nbcsportswashington.com and at @NBCSCapitals as we have an on-going series of blogs on the best comebacks of the season. This gets my vote for best win of the season because it had a great comeback, a crucial win against a division rival and an Ovechkin hat trick. Thanks for reading. Stay safe and we hope to see you back on the network when hockey returns.
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