WASHINGTON — Maybe when you have won a Stanley Cup, when your best players have been through the crucible and come out with the trophy, nothing seems impossible.
Down two goals on Sunday to the San Jose Sharks, who had just fired a shot into Washington’s empty net with a minute to go, the Capitals should have just taken their loss. They didn’t play particularly well. They were down 4-2. Large swaths of the crowd began filtering out into the winter afternoon. But, for some reason, they weren’t done.
“Because I think we've seen it before,” center Lars Eller said.
First, Jakub Vrana scored on a twisting shot in from of Sharks goalie Martin Jones with 46 seconds to go. Radko Gudas made a great play to keep the puck in the offensive zone – though San Jose’s coaches thought it was a hand pass. The group on the ice for that goal: Vrana, Eller, Gudas, Dmitry Orlov, Richard Panik and Brendan Leipsic. The big boys were sitting on the bench.
Defenseman John Carlson was on the bench stewing over a bad pass to Alex Ovechkin when 3-2 moments earlier. He didn’t read Timo Meier shading toward Ovechkin. The puck was knocked out of the zone and, after another off-kilter pass by Carlson, in the back of the net.
“So John doesn’t make a play that he loves. And that takes us down,” coach Todd Reirden said. “Okay. We score. Do you put John back out there or do you not? Of course you put your guys out there that are leaders and guys that are your team’s top players. You put them on the ice to have the chance again and then they do it.”
Carlson was on the ice for T.J. Oshie’s game-tying goal with 15 seconds to go. Yes, that’s two empty-net goals in 31 seconds. Most teams probably would have left their goalie in down 4-2 with a minute to go. Washington never thinks it’s out of a game. Carlson then had the primary assist in overtime on Eller’s game-winning shot.
Down two goals with a minute left, the Capitals escaped Capital One Arena like the Hamburglar with two points they stole. That’s fine. When you need a miracle in the Stanley Cup playoffs – and at some point you definitely will - it’s nice to call on games like this.
“We had everyone tugging the rope and when you have that, it's fun,” Oshie said. “And sometimes you got to get wins where maybe you shouldn't win or you are out of it. But when everyone is working and everyone is contributing, you can find ways to win."
The Capitals have trailed after two periods 15 times this season. They have rallied to win six of those games. There should be no time the rest of this season where a game – even a Stanley Cup playoff game – is out of reach.
Of course, you’d rather not actually play a mediocre game like Sunday’s. Washington gave up a hat trick to Evander Kane and had long stretches of ragged play in the first and third periods. You don’t want to rely on games like these. It’s nice to know they’re in the arsenal.
“I don't think we've scored two with one minute left. But now we just raised the bar for that,” Eller joked. “But we know we can score goals. Things weren't coming easy for us and we were struggling a little bit, but we always had a winning mentality, a no-quit mentality. It just worked out in the end even though it wasn't looking good for big parts of the game.”
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