Afterward, it was hard to tell which was more memorable: Matt Niskanen’s incredible coast-to-coast rush and parting of the Orange, Black and White Sea … or the reaction it received on the Capitals’ bench.
“It’s like back to the 70s, Bobby Orr, all those guys,” Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin said of Niskanen’s game-winning goal in the Caps’ 3-2 win over the Philadelphia Flyers Sunday at Verizon Center. “… I think the whole building was surprised.”
Asked for his reaction, Capitals coach Barry Trotz grinned and said:
“It’s a Sunday, I can’t. That’s what all the guys on the bench were thinking, because that’s a lot of what we were hearing.”
Niskanen’s Orr-like goal began near his own goal line and ended in Steve Mason’s goal crease, where he flipped a shot inside the right post for the game-winning goal 5:24 into the final period.
Niskanen, who entered the game with two goals on 91 shots, weaved through four different Flyers, each of whom played matador defense on the play.
“I really wanted to pass that puck to someone,” Niskanen said. “Either my vision’s getting worse or I couldn’t see anybody open.
“There was open ice to skate in the middle and I was able to pick my way through there. Lucky shot, I guess. I wanted onto the puck too long I start to get uncomfortable. I haven’t scored a goal like that in like 12 years.”
Flyers rookie defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere, who along with Michael Del Zotto was the last line of defense for the Flyers, said he was surprised at how much room Niskanen was given to operate.
“I think myself and (Del Zotto) could have done a better play,” he said. “We were kind of flat-footed, and we don't expect the D-man to have that much speed coming at us. I think we could have helped (Steve Mason) a little more. … I didn't expect him to carry it down that low."
Neither did the rest of the Capitals bench, which exploded in cheers, high fives and laughter.
Caps defenseman Karl Alzner said the last time he saw a player do what Niskanen did was a few days earlier when Oilers rookie phenom Connor McDavid went end-to-end for a goal.
“Maybe we can get the 1v1 Niskanen vs. McDavid tomorrow,” Alzner said. “I don’t think that was in (the Flyers’) pre-scout. As soon as he made that first move through the neutral zone it was like, ‘OK, he’s on a mission.’”
Niskanen, who played a game-high 24:51, also played a key role in the Capitals holding the Flyers scoreless on five power plays, including a 53-second two-man advantage midway through the second period.
“That, to me, was the difference in the game,” Trotz said.
Capitals goalie Braden Holtby helped, stopping the Flyers’ final 12 shots of the game to improve to 25-1-3 in his last 29 decisions and a league-best 33-5-3 overall this season.
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