The Capitals’ 5-4 comeback victory in Calgary on Tuesday night was their biggest win of the 2021-22 season thus far.
No, it wasn’t the most dominant, awe-inspiring game they’ve put up this year. That accolade might belong to the 4-0 thrashing they levied on the Carolina Hurricanes last week. But the come-from-behind win up North is the type of victory that just might turn around Washington’s season, and here’s why.
Early on in the contest, it was easy to see how the Flames have been arguably the best team in hockey over the last month. They pounced on pucks, suffocated the Caps in the offensive zone, and rendered Washington’s power play ineffectual. When Adam Ruzicka scored off a lazy Caps turnover in the second period to make the score 2-0, there was little light to see at the end of the tunnel.
Then a light bulb turned on over the Capitals' collective heads.
It was the 1,000th game together for Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom, so Washington couldn’t simply lay down. Conor Sheary scored off a rebound to cut the lead in half, then the play that changed the course of the game happened with under seven minutes to go in the second period:
Ovechkin came rumbling into the offensive zone and laid a big hit on Christopher Tanev to knock the puck loose. He collected the puck and fired it top shelf to tie the game.
Calgary would go up 3-2 early in the third, but Washington again refused to go away. Anthony Mantha, just three games back from a shoulder injury that sidelined him for four months, tied the game back up with a nice hesitation wrist shot. He’d been inches away from scoring twice prior.
Nic Dowd would supply what ended up being the game-winning goal off a great deke move during a Caps’ forecheck. Ovechkin would ice the game with an empty-netter—a goal that would tie him with Jaromir Jagr for third-most goals in NHL history. From 2-0 down to 5-4 victors, Washington pulled off the definition of a statement victory.
“I think that was one of the first games this year where we’ve been down a goal, we stuck with it in a tough building against a good team in their building, and did all the little things right and got rewarded for it at the end,” Dowd said postgame.
No, their power play didn’t spark much threat. No, there wasn’t a bone-crunching Tom Wilson hit that rallied the troops. But Washington’s refusal to give up on pucks, and the game itself, provided the energy the team needed—and has lacked in recent months.
Backstrom and Ovechkin both showed out on what was deemed ‘their’ night, their 1,000th night. Backstrom assisted the Mantha goal for career point No. 998 and Ovechkin tied Jagr for third on the goals list with two goals on the night. But it was ‘the others’ for Washington that proved to be the ace in the hole.
If you can have Sheary, Dowd and Mantha all score in the same game in addition to your stars, it’s going to be damn tough for any team to compete with that. Vitek Vanecek, though he let up four goals, also supplied some monumental stops that kept the Capitals from utter collapse. All told, it was above-average netminding for the Capitals—yet another midseason plague they’ve seemed to shed over the last week or so.
For the last half of the Calgary game, Washington looked like the deepest, grittiest, most motivated, best-coached team in hockey. They had a chance to prove not only that they belong in the upper echelon of the NHL standings, but that they can make a real splash at the end of the regular season and into the playoffs. They did just that. A comeback win in Calgary was the exclamation point on what looks to be a brand-spankin’-new Capitals team.