Caps 4, Bruins 3 (Overtime): Five Observations

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Loose Pucks,Sports,Brian McNally

1. Considering a one-goal lead in the third period was no sure thing for the Caps earlier this season, you wouldn’t have found many folks in Verizon Center on Tuesday night who saw them rallying from 3-0 down to beat the Boston Bruins. But there you go. That’s hockey. Tomas Kundratek, Mike Ribeiro and Wojtek Wolski all scored, Braden Holtby kept Boston at bay and Eric Fehr threw down a highlight-reel goal in overtime to swipe two critical standings points. Given that most of the teams in front of it won on Tuesday you can’t underestimate how big that win was for Washington.

The key on the game-winning goal? Nicklas Backstrom telling Fehr to “go to the middle with speed” if he got the puck. Fehr drove hard at rookie Dougie Hamilton and veteran Dennis Seidenberg and maybe took them both by surprise as he skated onto the puck just onsides. With the puck on his stick he “took a whack at it” as he was being hauled down, chipping it over goalie Tuukka Rask’s shoulder and in for the victory. Fehr later joked that maybe he’s scored one like that in junior – but never in the NHL. And he’s had some beauties.

2. You don’t expect much vocal leadership from a guy who just met his teammates on Friday. But Aaron Volpatti had a message for the Caps after the first intermission down 3-0. According to teammate Matt Hendricks, Volpatti said, ‘Boys, let’s just focus on winning the second period.’ Instead of looking at the big picture, looking at being down by three, he said let’s just look at this next 20 minutes. We’re focused on winning this 20. I think we came out and did that.”

They did indeed with a pair of goals to put pressure on Boston and give themselves a chance heading into the third period. Volpatti only played 3:47 on the night so that might have been his biggest contribution. Multiple Caps echoed coach Adam Oates. They didn’t think the first period was as bad as it looked given one of the goals was a penalty shot and the other was a power-play goal. At even strength they felt they could hang with Boston. Again – that confidence wasn’t necessarily there early in the season against the better teams in the Eastern Conference. It’s a small difference, but noticeable now.

3. Of course, a win isn’t possible if Holtby doesn’t shut the door. Certainly the Bruins helped by missing on some odd-man rushes late in the game. Bury even one of those and the game is pretty much over. And that was the feeling afterward: Maybe Holtby wants that third goal back – Hamilton scoring from the point on the power play – but he kept his team in the game by stopping the final 24 shots on goal. Oates could have pulled Holtby as he did last Wednesday in a 4-1 loss at Philadelphia. But he’s started 10 games in a row and he just shut out Winnipeg on Saturday. The leash was a little longer and Holtby took advantage.

“It crossed my mind, yeah. In fairness, it’s a good question,” Oates said. “[Holtby] deserves to give us a chance to let us fight back for him and we got through the period. That was my thought.”

4. A monster penalty kill for the Caps late in the game. Alex Ovechkin had a roller-coaster night with a beautiful primary assist, some big hits, but also three penalties. Even if you give him a pass on the hook on Brad Marchand’s short-handed breakaway, he also took an interference penalty later in the first and an awful hook of Marchand with just 2:27 left in the game. Luckily his teammates did a nice job of holding on and getting the game to overtime. Joel Ward won a defensive zone faceoff against Patrice Bergeron to start. Karl Alzner, John Erskine and Fehr all made key clears or intercepted Boston passes to disrupt what was a pretty lackluster power play with the game on the line. Tyler Seguin managed the only shot on goal for the Bruins during those two minutes. The Caps were disciplined all night long taking just two penalties. And while they gave up the initial one to Hamilton in the first period, they were good enough when it mattered most.

5. Before the game, injured Caps defenseman Mike Green pulled Kundratek aside and had a message: Tonight was the night. It was time for Kundratek to break through with his first NHL goal.

It happened the way Green drew it up thanks to a faceoff win by Backstrom and help from Fehr on the wing. Kundratek’s shot from the top of the right circle deflected past Rask to make the score 3-2 Boston and really swing the momentum in Washington’s favor. Kundratek had come close to scoring before. He’s seen some power play time on the left wall and had taken 14 shots on goal. But nothing went down for him until Tuesday.

It hasn’t exactly been an easy few weeks for Kundratek, 23, who went from surprise recall after the first game of the season to third pairing regular to now first pairing with Karl Alzner. He’s probably not really ready for these minutes ( 23:02) or this role. But with Green out with a groin injury, Roman Hamrlik on waivers, Jack Hillen (shoulder) hurt, too – it’s his opportunity. Not bad for a guy whose old organization, the New York Rangers, gave up on him early last season and made what seemed at the time a minor trade of disappointing AHL players. Francois Bouchard  was sent by the Caps to New York. He’s now playing in Austria. Kundratek performed well enough at Hershey to earn a five-game stint with Washington last January and put himself on the radar.    

“You’re happy for [Kundratek]. He’s played good hockey, and another tough team he’s playing against. With Greenie out, it’s more minutes, and you’re throwing him to the wolves a little bit,” Oates admitted. “He handled it great.”

Follow me on Twitter @bmcnally14

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