Capitals optimistic after win over Flyers: ‘It’s a starting point, right?’


There aren’t any must-win games in November, but the Capitals’ showdown with the similarly struggling Flyers sure felt like one. 

And in the clutch, Wednesday night, Sonny Milano and Alex Ovechkin treated it as such.

Milano tied the game late in regulation, then in overtime Ovechkin one-timed a pass from Dylan Strome past Felix Sandstrom to lift the Caps to a thrilling 3-2 victory at Capital One Arena.

The win put a halt to the Caps’ four-game winless streak (0-3-1) and, for the moment, allowed them to take a deep breath and enjoy Thanksgiving. 

Just as important, the two standings points edged Washington within four points of Tampa Bay and the second wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference.

“It’s a starting point, right?” Coach Peter Laviolette said. “It hasn’t gone our way and we got to start somewhere digging out.”

“It was a gutsy win just staying with it,” he added. “It’s one of those games where it seems like you’re not going to be able to find that next one. You’re pushing, you’re pushing. I thought guys just stuck to it. We finally got one in the third and OT was good.”

As for digging out of the hole that they’ve dug for themselves, Milano put the first shovel in the ground. The Caps had tilted the ice for most of the final 40 minutes but couldn’t get anything to drop until Milano raced to the net and finished Evgeny Kuznetsov’s crossing pass to knot the score 2-2 with 2:58 remaining in regulation.

Milano now has three goals in nine games after signing with the Caps last month.

“I saw Kuzy had a lot of space and I just tried to match his speed and I got to the back door and he threw it to that spot and it went in,” he said.

Added Laviolette about Milano: “He’s been really good. He makes plays out there. He’s a talented guy. He sees the ice well.”

Philadelphia Coach John Tortorella said he was irked by the defensive lapse that led to Milano’s goal.

“The frustrating part for me is the second goal,” said Tortorella, whose Flyers saw their winless streak grow to eight games (0-5-3). “It’s a coverage we have gone over time and time again and we just do not do it correctly. It cost us the second goal.”

Milano’s clutch tally breathed new life into the Caps and Ovechkin made sure they took home the win. 

Just 1:04 into the extra session, the Caps’ captain took advantage of a tired Flyers’ trio, which was unable to change, found a soft spot in the offensive zone and Strome put the puck squarely in his wheelhouse. 

Sandstrom became the 164th goal Ovechkin has scored against in his career, tying him with Mark Messier for the third most in NHL history. Only Jaromir Jagr (178) and Patrick Marleau (177) victimized more netminders.

“Great pass, obviously,” Ovechkin said of Strome, whose 16 points are second only to his 19. “I just have to hit the net.”

“Finally, you know?” Ovechkin added with a grin. 

As critical as Milano and Ovechkin were to engineering the comeback, the game also underscored the importance of T.J. Oshie, who returned from an 11-game absence due to a lower-body injury. The Caps count on him for his energy. They count on him for his lead-by-example grit. More than anything, though, they count on him for his offense. In addition to recording a team-high seven hits, Oshie also recorded secondary assists on both goals in regulation.

“That game felt good,” Oshie said. “We were working pretty hard there most of the game up, and down the lineup. A lot of good O-zone shifts, lot of posts.”

“All in all I think a pretty good full 60,” he continued. “You can’t control it the whole game but I think most of the game, a majority of the game, it was kind of on our side and when they pushed, we did a good job of claiming it back and getting more O-zone shifts so kind of a gutsy win there. Proud of the boys, glad we were able to do it in overtime.”

The thrill of Ovechkin’s OT winner contrasted sharply with how things began for the Caps, who are still awaiting the return of Dmitry Orlov (lower-body injury), Nicklas Backstrom (hip) and Tom Wilson (ACL), both of whom remain sidelined long term.

Just 5:27 in, Darcy Kuemper allowed a preventable goal that put Washington in an early 1-0 hole. He attempted to make a blocker save on Morgan Frost’s wrist shot but the puck went up and over his shoulder and had just enough momentum to sneak over the goal line. 

The Caps clawed back into the game on a power-play goal from Marcus Johansson a few minutes later.

For a while, the home team seized control. In fact, the Caps owned a 15-5 shot advantage in the second period.

One of the Flyers’ five shots, however, eluded Kuemper. Ivan Provorov hurled the puck from a tight angle toward the front of the net, where it deflected in off of the skate of Patrick Brown as the center tangled with Matt Irwin.

Afterward, Kuemper called both the goals he allowed “bad” and credited his teammates for having his back.

“Any time you can come from behind like that is massive for morale,” the goalie said. “From my standpoint, obviously a couple bad bounces, bad goals — let’s call a spade a spade they’re bad goals — for the guys to pick me up like that means a lot from my standpoint as well.”

The hole the Caps find themselves in is still pretty deep. There are four teams between themselves and the Lightning, who have two games in hand.

But as Laviolette said, it’s all about baby steps right now.

“We can still push a little bit,” Laviolette said. “All of us can be a little bit better. There’s more to give. But we’ll take it tonight and try to get better.”

(Photo: Geoff Burke / USA Today)


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