Ilya Samsonov put together an incredible performance to backstop the Capitals to a 5-4 win over the New Jersey Devils on Sunday. With the win, Washington completed the season sweep of the Devils with a perfect 8-0-0 record.
On Thursday, the New York Islanders and Pittsburgh Penguins pulled into a three-team tie with the Caps atop the East Division. With two straight wins, Washington now sits alone atop the division again with a two-point lead over the Islanders and a four-point lead over the Penguins.
Here is how it happened.
The Devils poured the rubber on net in this one and it took a big game from Samsonov to deliver the win. New Jersey fired 17 shots on goal in the first period and Samsonov managed to stop 16 of them to ensure the game was tied at 1 through 20 minutes. Washington took control with two goals in the second, but the Caps just seemed to run out of gas late in the second as the Devils tilted the ice significantly in their favor. Samsonov, however, stood on his head. He had a full game's worth of work through the first two periods with 29 saves on 31 shots and finished with 35 total saves for the game.
Samsonov came up with a number of highlight-reel saves on the day, but the best was clearly his highway robbery of Damon Severson late in the second. Jack Hughes fed Severson who was alone on the backdoor for what looked like an easy goal. Instead, Samsonov stretched out the glove for the amazing save. The save was so amazing, in fact, that Severson went down the tunnel immediately after the play and obliterated his stick in frustration.
An individual effort by Oshie
T.J. Oshie got Washignton on the board late in the first with a great individual effort for his fourth goal in five games.
Brenden Dillon passed the puck up into the natural zone and Alex Ovechkin redirected it to Oshie. Devils defenseman Dmitry Kulikov looked to be in good position as Oshie entered into the offensive zone. He was between Oshie and the net, but stepped up to try to sweep away the redirected puck and that was the key. Oshie was flying at full-speed and that step up by Kulikov allowed Oshie to catch him flat-footed. Oshie grabbed the loose puck, turned the corner to get in alone on net and backhanded the puck past goalie Mackenzie Blackwood.
5 minutes in the 2nd
Thorugh the first two periods, New Jersey was getting the better of the play. They were firing the puck from everywhere, they were using their speed to generate chances and the Caps looked gassed by the end of the second. And yet, Washington held a 3-2 lead through 40 minutes. Samsonov's brilliant play was the primary reason why, but the turning point of the game was a five-minute stretch early in the 2nd in which Washington scored twice to take a 3-1 lead and control of the game.
Conor Sheary was left open off an offensive zone faceoff and fired a shot that deflected off of Severson and in. A little under five minutes later, Alex Ovechkin tapped a puck in off the goal line for the power play goal. Ovechkin would tally two assists to go with that goal for a three-point game.
An insurance shorthanded tally
Washington led 3-2 through two periods, but the Devils were buzzing and Samsonov was doing absolutely everything he could to keep Washington ahead. A slashing penalty from Lars Eller gave New Jersey yet another opportunity to tie the game, but it was Washington that took advantage.
Garnet Hathaway took the puck off the wall in the defensive zone, but elected not to dump it down the ice. Instead, he hit it off the boards to get around Severson and drove to the net. Drawing two players onto him, Hathaway then pulled off a nifty backhand pass to set up Carl Hagelin for the shorthanded goal.
The goal gave the Caps a two-goal lead and put them back in control of a game that was tilting heavily in New Jersey's favor. Evgeny Kuznetsov would extend the lead to three goals later in the third and Washington would need every one of those five goals in a 5-4 win.