The lines were basically the same as the game before, although Halak wasn't feeling great and didn't start (this was a last-minute decision; it was assumed after practice that he would be). That didn't worry me, although I wonder if it did, Coach Oates.
Washington started out quite strong, taking it to the Sharks, and finally getting a lucky goal from the third line in the twelfth minute. They were applying strong pressure, and a shot rebounded from Neimi to the same-side defenseman, who tried to clear it. But his shot rebounded, almost immediately, off his defensive partner's leg and over the shoulder of a stunned Niemi. After much debate, Fehr was credited with the goal.
Things continued to look pretty good for the Caps, until a last-minute flurry resulted in a San Jose goal with six seconds left, as Marleau got a rebound in front of the net and put it home.
The second period started out being almost all Sharks (greated aided by a pair of power plays). On one of those power plays, they did a very good job keeping San Jose from setting up in the zone, but the other was basically a shooting gallery. But Holt-beast was in full effect, and kept the game tied.
The second half of the period had the Caps catching up a bit. I'd like to say that they were helped by the two power plays they got during that time, but the truth is that they looked terrible. I think they got one shot on net on the two PPs combined. The one time they managed to get set up, a nice (lucky?) deflection of a cross-ice pass sent them out of the zone again. Other than that, it was continual rewinds as they dumped in and had it immediately cleared. San Jose even got a strong forecheck in on one of those power plays; that was just ugly.
The third period played basically even, with each team scoring one. Sheppard scored on an unassisted breakaway five minutes in (and Holtby definitely wanted that one back), and Brown scored on another fluky goal seven minutes later (with nice assistance from Wilson and Penner). Brown's goal was fluky because it deflected off two San Jose players before it went in. Niemi couldn't've been terribly pleased with the team in front of him.
OV's high sticking call with two minutes and change left provided quite a scare, but Holtby again looked like a wall.
Washington did a very nice job, comfortably outplaying the Sharks, when the game went into overtime, but they did not manage to score their fifth OT goal of the season.
So it went into the coin flip, where Couture started things off by getting stopped. Oates again started with his Russian enigma, and got the advantage when Kuzya put it past Niemi. Pavelski and Fehr continued, and were both stopped to make it very tight. Marleau put his second past Holtby after that, keeping the Sharks alive.
At that point, I tweeted:
Ok. One shot to break twenty year losing streakAnd Backstrom calmly skated in and beat Niemi for the win. And the crowd went wild. Well, the Caps fans who were still awake did, at least.
— AMusingFool (@AMusingFool) March 23, 2014
Not a pretty game, although Holtby looked fabulous, especially with how he's been treated over the past several weeks. I wonder if the thirty-four saves are enough to get him another start tomorrow or Saturday. I hope so. Halak's been great, but Holtby's had similarly good stretches. Actually, thinking about it, I bet this gets Holtby the start against Boston, as he has only one regular season loss against the Bruins.
As I said, the Caps power play looked pretty terrible. They were reduced almost entirely to dump-ins, and they're just not a good dump and chase team. Well, not without Chimmer on the power play, they aren't. The end result was only eight shot attempts (actually, I'm amazed it was that many, although only three of them were on-net) in six minutes. That's massively off their normal pace, which is quite a credit to the penalty killing of the Sharks.
The PK got the job done, technically, although that's mostly a credit to Holtby. They allowed fourteen shot attempts in just over six minutes of power play time (actually, I'm not sure how they calculate that. There were three power plays, and none were ended prematurely. Only thing I can think of is a little bit of 6-on-5 on a delayed call being credited as power play time), with eleven of those shots being on net. Saying the Caps were lucky there is a massive understatement.
All in all, you just have to say that the Caps were incredibly lucky to win the game. Lucky not to give up an power play goals and lucky to score both of the times Niemi was beat.
Really, they just looked outclassed through most of the game. 5-on-5 close Fenwick was 55% in favor of the Sharks, and I'm actually surprised it was that close. It didn't feel like it, when I was watching.
But I'm not complaining. At this point in the season, as I've said, there are no more style points. It took an immense amount of luck, but the Caps managed five out of six points on the West Coast swing. That puts them into a position where it's believable that they might make the playoffs. The odds are still against it, but no longer overwhelmingly so.
If they can pull a pair of points out of the next two games, then I think they'll probably make it. Go pointless, and I'd bet against it pretty strongly.
Anyway, as alluded earlier, tomorrow is the next game, and it's at home against the Kings. Another very tough one. I'd like to hope that this marks the end of the OV/Beagle line, but practice this morning suggest no. Go Caps!