Alex Ovechkin and Mike Ribeiro have been M.I.A. for the Washington Capitals’ last few games. They both reappeared at the best possible time on Thursday night, helping to pull out a game against the Carolina Hurricanes that the Caps absolutely had to have.
Ovechkin scored one of his trademark power play goals to tie the game in the third period, and Ribeiro stuffed home a puck during a goal mouth scramble to help Washington finish off a 3-2 come from behind victory over Carolina. Michal Neuvirth also came up huge, stopping 36 of 38 Hurricanes shots for only his second win of the season.
Though Washington entered the third period trailing 2-1, they also began the frame on the power play thanks to a high-sticking call to Carolina captain Eric Staal as time expired in the second. Ovechkin made the hosts pay, blasting a shot home from his favorite spot in the left circle after a heads up play by Troy Brouwer to find him.
The Capitals’ captain was also a major factor in the game-winner. Coming off the bench at the perfect time, Ovechkin got behind all of the Hurricanes for a clean breakaway on Dan Ellis. His deke was successful, but the puck hit the post and stayed out of the net. Ribeiro crashed in from the opposite side and was able to poke it home, though the goal needed to hold up to a video review.
Any thoughts of getting such a big road win looked dim early on, as Alexander Semin scored his eighth of the season just 1:14 into the game. Patrick Dwyer added a deflection goal at the 8:17 mark of the first, and the hosts were off and flying in an opening frame that featured 27 combined shots on goal.
The Caps picked up their game in the second period, making it a contest by getting some offense from an unlikely source. Tough guy Aaron Volpatti, a healthy scratch for the last few games, made a surprisingly excellent feed to Joey Crabb to finish off a bang-bang play 5:56 in.
That set the stage for Washington’s late heroics, but Carolina made things tense by piling on the pressure after pulling Ellis with 1:25 to play. A holding call on Nicklas Backstrom even made it 6-on-4 for the final 15.5 seconds, and one final bullet was dodged when Semin sent a laser wide after a Jordan Staal faceoff win.
No matter how it happened, the Capitals will take the win, the end to their three-game losing streak, and the two points. They still find themselves five points out of the playoffs and eight points out of the division lead with 22 games left in the season, but at least their uphill road just got a little less steep.
The game was over when…
The Caps’ best players came through when it mattered. Ovechkin deserves much of the blame shoveled in his direction, and his lack of even strength goal scoring is still worrisome. But he still can crank it on the man advantage, and he made the last goal happen and was unlucky not to score it himself. Ribeiro has shown more frustration than skill the last few games, yet he also made a high effort play to score the game-winner.
The unsung Capitals hero was…
Volpatti, because who knew he could pass like that? Crabb is having a season almost completely devoid of offense, so you know it was a nice set-up if he was able to put it home. Volpatti even got rewarded with a chance to skate on the Ovechkin line for part of the third period.