T.J. Oshie adjusted the bright red Washington Nationals batting helmet covered in autographs, the prized possession the Washington Capitals are passing around this year to game MVPs after wins. “It’s a little big,” he said.
That probably wasn’t of great concern to Oshie, though. Not after he scored two key goals in one of the best games of the NHL season.
Oshie gave the Capitals their first lead and John Carlson slapped in the game-winner as the Capitals defeated the Boston Bruins, 3-2, Wednesday in an anticipated meeting of the clubs with the two best records in the league.
Washington improved to a NHL-best 51 points (23-5-5), while the Bruins stayed put at 46 points (20-6-6).
Oshie had scored just one goal in the previous 10 games, but Wednesday he potted two in a span of 3:30 of game time. Carlson had an assist along with his goal, and Braden Holtby improved to 18-3-0 all-time against Boston by making 30 saves.
The matchup lived up to its billing as one of the biggest games of the regular season to date. It managed to include both plenty of skill — with multiple highlight-reel goals — and noticeable physicality, with one fight, 10 total minor penalties and Alex Ovechkin’s game-high six hits.
“It’s always fun to play (when) the two best teams right now in the league play against each other,” Ovechkin said. “You can see how tough the game was. We play hard, they play hard. It’s always nice to get two points. We knew it’s not gonna be easy game because they have a very good team out there.”
Washington came out firing, possessing the puck for most of the first five minutes, but the Bruins drew first blood when the NHL’s leading goal scorer David Pastrnak sniped a puck over Holtby’s shoulder on an odd-man rush. It was Pastrnak’s 26th tally of the year.
Coach Todd Reirden praised video coaches Brett Leonhardt and Tim Ohashi for making the crucial save, the second successful overturned goal for the Capitals in three games.
“I don’t mention this when I’m talking about my staff, is my challenge tonight. I think that had a huge, huge impact on the game,” Reirden said. “Having two talented guys in there and how they go about their business and the responsibilities they each have, letting us know that that was a challengeable call, to me that’s a major deciding factor in tonight’s game.”
Oshie’s goals arrived early in the second period. First, with Chris Wagner in the box, Carlson fed Oshie a pass in the slot. His first shot flew off the crossbar, but he put the rebound past Jaroslav Halak.
Shortly thereafter, the 32-year-old beat defenseman Connor Clifton with a right-to-left move and popped in a backhander to move to 13 goals on the year.
Oshie said in the locker room that he had yet to watch a replay of the goal, which appears destined for his career retrospective.
“I felt like I had (Jakub Vrana’s) wheels on the bench. I had to check my skates, make sure there wasn’t a 13 under there,” Oshie joked. “Like I said, I haven’t seen it. It felt pretty lucky for the puck to squeak through there. You just try to put it upstairs with a couple sticks on you, so happy it went in.”
Sean Kuraly tied it in the third by redirecting a long Torey Krug shot. But Carlson answered less than two minutes later when Nicklas Backstrom skated behind the net and fed him in the right circle for a fierce one-timer.
“I was just trying to shoot it in the net. I mean I had enough chances before. I was pretty frustrated and it was nice to at least find the back of the net,” Carlson said.
“Yeah, a little bit, but he’s pretty mobile back there,” Backstrom said. “And especially like that too, I think Ovi came on the far post or the middle there too, so it’s kinda hard to protect everyone out there … Yeah, a hell of a shot.”
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