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Pro Hockey: Capitals ensure Brouwer’s efforts don’t go to waste

BY ZAC BOYER

WASHINGTON—By doing the same thing again and getting a different result, Alex Ovechkin drove the Washington Capitals to insanity.

His wrister from the blue line 1:25 into overtime, nearly an identical shot to the one he took not 10 seconds earlier, didn’t go wide left.

Instead, it went through New York Islanders goalie Evgeni Nabokov’s legs, hitting the back of the net and completing a gutty comeback Tuesday night as the Capitals scored three unanswered goals in a 3–2 victory at Verizon Center.

It was a nearly improbable comeback for Washington (32–26–5), which was down two goals to the Islanders (26–28–9), among the worst teams in the league, with not much more than three and a half minutes remaining in regulation.

But a pair of goals from Troy Brouwer and Ovechkin’s overtime winner put the Capitals back into the playoff picture with 19 games remaining.

“I had opportunity and coach trusts me in the OT,” said Ovechkin, whose unassisted goal was his 26th of the season, his 54th career game-winner and his 11th in overtime. “I have more chances to score and again, it was kind of a lucky goal but I’ll take it right now. It was very important for the team.”

Ovechkin initially took the puck from Marcus Johansson near the blue line, but the Islanders’ defensive duo of Travis Hamonic and Andrew MacDonald allowed him to manage only an off-balance wrister that went wide.

After the Islanders moved the puck back down the ice and into their offensive zone, Mike Green poke-checked it away from Josh Bailey, allowing Ovechkin to scoop it back. He did, taking it down the left boards again and seeing only Hamonic to beat.

The snapper from nearly 40 feet did just that, heading through Nabokov’s knees and completing the Capitals’ comeback in their first of a crucial five-game, 10-day homestand.

“I thought he came down like three or four times and just missed the net,” head coach Dale Hunter said. “I don’t know if the goalie thought he was going to shoot for the corners again and it went five-hole, so it was a great shot.”

The overtime comeback wouldn’t have happened if not for Brouwer, who snapped a 13-game scoreless streak with his late pair. The first, with 3:29 to play, was a rebound of an attempt by Mathieu Perreault that he was able to sneak past Nabokov. The other, with 25.5 left, was a tip of Brooks Laich’s shot from the right that passed through considerable traffic before reaching its target.

“I’d like to say I had some skill involved in it, but I saw nothing,” Laich said. “[Assistant coach] Jimmy Johnson drew up a play for us and Dennis [Wideman] made the pass back to me, and I had really no play.

“The only thing I saw is that the D-man came out with his legs spread, trying to make himself as big as possible, and I saw the hole in his legs. I threw it at the net with a hope and a prayer, hoping it would work out.”

New York, which had beaten the Capitals in the two previous meetings between the teams—including Washington’s first shutout loss of the season on Jan. 13—took the lead 4:16 in despite being outshot by a margin that would end up 13–3 after the first period.

Bailey scored the first goal, deking Jeff Shultz and lifting it past a charging Michal Neuvirth, before Matt Moulson was credited with the second 2:16 into the second period when he deflected a shot by Steve Staios that fluttered considerably in the air before going in.

“Actually I saw the puck the whole time,” said Neuvirth, who earned his third consecutive win by stopping 22 shots. “It was going right to my glove, it hit something. It was a good goal by them.”

Nabokov, to his credit, stopped 31 shots by the Capitals, who remain three points behind Florida for the Southeast Division lead after the Panthers’ 5–3 win at Toronto. But they did overtake Winnipeg, which was up by one point for the eighth and final playoff spot with slightly over five weeks remaining.

It was a good sign for a Washington team that did not make a move before Monday’s trading deadline, instead choosing to stay with the roster it has as it pursues its fifth consecutive playoff berth.

Likewise, it was one of concern, given that overtime was needed to topple a team that entered 13th in the Eastern Conference.

The three-game winning streak, its first since Jan. 11–15, was a start.

“It didn’t matter if it took 60 or 65 minutes or a shootout,” Brouwer said. “We had to find a way to get two points. We just kept coming at them and we capped it off in pretty dramatic style.”

Zac Boyer: 540/374-5440

zboyer@freelancestar.com

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