By: Justin Creech
Washington, DC—Through 51 minutes last night it looked like the Washington Capitals weren’t going to have enough to defeat the Detroit Red Wings.
The Red Wings had outshot and outworked the Caps the entire night, and had just taken the lead on a goal by Olympic bound defensemen Brian Rafalski. Yet, somehow the Capitals were able to muster enough energy and mental toughness to keep battling and they were rewarded for doing such.
Nicklas Backstrom and David Steckel tallied 46 seconds apart on consecutive shots and Jose Theodore made a key save with 2:16 remaining as the Capitals beat the defending Western Conference Champions, 3-2, to move back into sole possession of first-place in the Eastern Conference.
“They outworked us,” said Backstrom whose goal was his 20th of the season. “But, we finally got it going a little bit in the second and third. It’s a great thing to win.”
Backstrom deeked Red Wings defensemen Brad Stuart in the mid-slot and beat Detroit goaltender Chris Osgood five-hole on the power play at 13:15 to tie the game at 2 and Steckel put the Capitals ahead for good on a fluky goal.
Alexander Semin took a shot from just above the right circle that deflected off a Detroit defensemen and up into the air. Steckel, who was tied up with Detroit’s Darren Helm, got enough of his blade on the puck to deflect it passed Osgood at 14:01 for his fourth goal of the season.
“I saw it bouncing I was just trying to get it on net,” said Steckel. “I honestly thought it went wide at first until I looked back, so, I was kind of lucky there.”
Matt Bradley also tallied late in the second period on a pretty backhand saucer pass from Boyd Gordon to give the Capitals fourth line of Bradley, Steckel and Gordon a three-point night.
“Obviously we are not going to hit the score sheet every night, and Detroit pretty much outplayed us for the entire game,” said Steckel. “But, when you get in games like this your fourth line is vital whether it’s creating energy with a hit or scoring a timely goal, and we were fortunate enough to do both tonight.”
No Capital was more vital last night then Theodore. Theodore made 44 saves, including all 15 he faced in a first period that saw the Capitals get outshot 15-3.
“That was probably the best I’ve seen him,” said Capitals Coach Bruce Boudreua of Theodore. “I’m watching him thinking ‘this must be how he looked when he won the Vezina and the Hart Trophy in Montreal that year because without him, it very well could’ve been 6-0 at the end of the first period’.”
The Capitals were outshot in the first period for the fifth time in the last six games and did not record their first shot of this game until the 14:23 mark. However, Boudreau did not seem to think it was a big deal considering the Red Wings are currently ninth in the Western Conference standings after having gone the Stanley Cup Finals the last two years.
“I’m sitting their thinking this is what Stanley Cup Champions that are desperate do,” said Boudreau. “And it’s a bar that we have to get to. We were fortunate our goalie was great in the first period.”
The game went scoreless until the 4:17 mark of the second period when Detroit’s Dan Cleary beat Theodore on a fluky goal. Valtteri Filppula’s shot was stopped and Cleary wiffed on the initial rebound chance, but when the puck came back to him he used a 360 backhand that deflected in off of Theodore.
At that point the Red Wings were outshooting the Capitals 21-9.
The Capitals had several chances to tie the game throughout the second period, but were unable too until Matt Bradley beat Chris Osgood with 1:55 left in the second period.
Mike Green found Boyd Gordon just inside the Detroit blue-line, and Gordon found a cutting Bradley, who beat Osgood high to glove side as Osgood knelt down to attempt to make the save. The goal, Bradley’s eighth of the season, tied the game at 1 and sent the Capitals into the third period with some much needed momentum.
“I think he thought I was going to go to my backhand, so he kind of cheated across,” said Bradley. “But like I said it was a lucky goal I was able to get it up and it was a great pass by Gordon.”
Though they acknowledged they were lucky to win, the Capitals know they need to learn how to win games like this if they are going to make a run at the Stanley Cup.
“The third period was like a playoff game, it was tight and we need to know how to win games like this with everyone contributing not just our superstars,” said Steckel [Detroit] is battling for a playoff spot right now. I thought we could have played better, but to their credit they prevented us from doing that.”