It took him six days and three air-tight hockey games, but Dale Hunter finally has his first win as an NHL coach.
Brooks Laich celebrated his 500th game in the NHL by scoring 12 seconds into overtime on a perfectly timed pass from linemate Jason Chimera, giving the Capitals a 3-2 win over the Ottawa Senators Saturday night in front of a sellout crowd at the Verizon Center and a national television audience on Hockey Night In Canada.
"It feels good," Hunter said. "It's one of those things you want to get over with right away, hopefully in the first game. But it had to be the third."
The win snapped a four-game losing streak for the Capitals, vaulting them past the ninth-place Senators and into an eighth-place tie with the Montreal Canadiens with 27 points. The Caps are now three points behind the Southeast Division-leading Florida Panthers, whom they visit on Monday night.
Saturday night's win did not come easy.
The Caps were 3:15 away from giving Hunter a regulation win when a hard-work goal by Ottawas Milan Michalek tied the score and sent the game to overtime.
Senators forward Nick Foligno started the play by grabbing the puck behind the Capitals net and driving hard to the left of goaltender Michal Neuvirth, who was making his first start since a 6-3 loss to the Rangers on Black Friday.
Foligno shoveled the puck into the crease and while Karl Alzner and Daniel Alfredsson battled in the crease, Michalek swooped in to score his team-leading 16th goal of the season.
"It's hockey and I was just trying to put that goal behind me," Neuvirth said. "I bounced right back."
The Caps wasted no time creating offense on the 4-on-4 overtime. Twelve seconds after winning a faceoff back to defenseman Karl Alzner, Laich finished off a play that he diagrammed in his head earlier in the game.
"I talked to Karl throughout the game," Laich said, "and I said, 'You've made a couple plays to me quick up through the middle. Get it up as soon as we can.'"
Laich dished the puck to Chimera, broke toward the goal and deposited Chimera's return pass over sliding goaltender Craig Anderson for his first goal in six games and fifth of the season.
"He's a warrior," Hunter said. "He plays a lot of minutes for me and cares about winning and losing. How much I play him shows how much he means to the team."
For the record, Laich was third among Capitals forwards with 20:45 of ice time. Only Alex Ovechkin (20:55) and Jason Chimera (20:58) played more.
It marked just the sixth time this season Ovechkin played more than 20 minutes in a game and he responded with a strong overall performance with four shots, two hits, two blocked shots and a nice assist on Troy Brouwer's go-ahead goal in the third period.
"He's learning more, especially when two guys are on him all the time, he's passing." said Backstrom, who picked up his ninth goal of the season. "He's a key for this team, even if he doesn't score. He's our captain, he's our leader. He does things out there that are very important."
On Brouwer's goal, Dennis Wideman rushed the puck across the blue line and fed Ovechkin, who was streaking to his left. When Sergei Gonchar closed in on Ovechkin, the Capitals captain snapped a pass to Brouwer, who one-timed a shot past Anderson for his seventh goal of the season and a 2-1 lead.
The assist was Ovechkins 11th of the season. Only Backstrom (18) has more on the Capitals.
The Caps opened the scoring 1:58 into the game when Backstrom used a burst of speed and a lightning-quick wrist shot to provide a 1-0 lead. With Backstrom coming at them at full speed, Ottawa defensemen Chris Phillips and Sergei Gonahar gave up the blue line and Backstrom whipped a snap shot past Andersons glove for his ninth goal of the season and team-high 27th point in 25 games.
Anderson held the Senators in the game by closing his pads on a mini-breakaway by Cody Eakin later in the first period, getting his right pad on a clean breakaway backhander by Ovechkin early in the second, and denying Marcus Johansson with a pad save midway through the second.
The Sens tied the score just 58 seconds into that second period when defenseman Erik Karlsson chopped down a clearing attempt by Backstrom a wristed a rising wrist shot through Ovechkin and past a screened Neuvirth, who was making his first start since a Black Friday 6-3 loss to the Rangers.
Ovechkin had blocked an attempt from Karlsson seconds earlier and seemed reluctant to get in the way a second time.
Hunter went with the following two units on his power play. Top unit: Backstrom, Jason Chimera and Mike Knuble up front with Alex Ovechkin and Dennis Wideman at the points. Second unit: forwards Brooks Laich, Brouwer, Johansson with point men John Carlson and Dmitry Orlov.
On the penalty kill Hunter went with these four-man units: Jeff Halpern and Laich with Wideman and John Erskine; Brouwer and Backstrom with Karl Alzner and Carlson; and Matt Hendricks and Mike Knuble with Jeff Schultz and Wideman.