WASHINGTON – That backdoor spot in the left faceoff circle that Capitals superstar Alex Ovechkin has patented as his goal-producing factory, especially on the power play, was left vacant for more than half a period.
After taking a Chris Stewart pass to the face, Ovechkin crumpled to the ice, leaving a pool of blood there when he skated off for a few stitches in his lip with 11 minutes remaining in the second period.
In the wake of his absence, the Wild ramped up the pressure, funneling pucks at goalie Braden Holtby. But when Ovechkin returned to start the third, the momentum the Wild built during the second didn’t.
Instead, a rejuvenated Capitals group took over, with Ovechkin helping seal a 3-1 victory Saturday night that ended the Wild’s season-high, four-game winning streak when he set up the team’s second power-play goal late in the third from — where else? — his office on the back side.
“Their power play was better than our power play,” Wild coach Bruce Boudreau said. “That’s pretty well the difference.”
Ovechkin slid a pass through the slot to center Evgeny Kuznetsov that banked off Kuznetsov’s right skate before he backhanded it past Wild goalie Alex Stalock with 2 minutes, 37 seconds remaining in the third. It was a critical insurance goal: The Wild nearly tied it moments earlier on a shot from defenseman Ryan Suter.
But the puck rang off the crossbar, and in the waning minutes of the period Suter was assessed a four-minute penalty for high-sticking center Lars Eller — a call Boudreau protested initially because he believed Suter caught Eller on a follow-through. But after reviewing the play, Boudreau saw Suter didn’t connect with the puck.
“If he had hit the puck, then it was the follow-through,” Boudreau said. “But he slid up the shaft of the stick.”
Washington also opened the scoring 9:42 into the first period on the power play after Warroad’s T.J. Oshie finished off a tic-tac-toe passing sequence in front with a rising one-timer by Stalock, who earned a rare start with Devan Dubnyk banking rest after playing eight in a row. The goal stopped a 17-for-17 run for the Wild’s penalty kill over its previous six games.
But the Wild responded at 12:02 with its own power-play tally. Mikko Koivu’s shot from the half-wall was kept alive by winger Mikael Granlund, which allowed linemate Nino Niederreiter to slide the loose puck past Holtby.
Only 44 seconds later, though, Washington retook the lead on Dmitry Orlov’s blast from the right point.
With Ovechkin idle for much of the second, Holtby led Washington’s charge. He was especially clutch late in the period, stopping a flurry of shots that included getting a glove on a one-timer from defenseman Kyle Quincey.
Stalock was also steady; he turned aside Ovechkin early in the third not long after Ovechkin’s shot hit the crossbar. Later in the period, Stalock made another pad save on a penalty shot after winger Chandler Stephenson was hauled down by defenseman Mike Reilly. He finished with 40 saves; Holtby had 30.
That late goal by Kuznetsov capped off a 2-for-5 night for the Capitals power play, highlighting the special-teams battle. The Wild was unable to cash in on three ensuing chances after Niederreiter’s score — a missed opportunity that might have flipped the script.
“A bounce here or there and we’re in a different game,” Stalock said. “Tough call at the end, too, with the high stick. It’s a battle play, really. I don’t know. It is what it is, but tough way to finish.”