Midway through the third period against the Phoenix Coyotes, the Capitals saw their flickering playoff chances flashing in front of their eyes.
The fans inside Verizon Center felt the tension and the frustration, but behind the bench Capitals coach Adam Oates kept preaching patience.
“You can’t gamble to try to get that first goal,” Oates said. “It’s a recipe that you try and sell every night.”
This time the Caps bought into it and in a matter of five minutes, they feasted.
With 10:15 remaining in regulation and the Caps trailing 2-0, Karl Alzner’s seeing-eye wrist shot sailed through a screen provided by Jay Beagle and Phoenix defenseman Keith Yandle and landed just under the crossbar behind goaltender Mike Smith to breathe life into the Capitals and the sellout crowd.
“I was excited,” said Alzner, who entered the game with one goal this season and just six in his previous in 327 NHL games. “Everyone seemed really excited. Maybe it had something to do with the fact that it was me who scored it, but people really seemed up after that. It was the perfect momentum swing.”
The crowd had not yet returned to its seats when Jason Chimera found Brooks Laich alone in the crease for a game-tying tap-in just 32 seconds later.
The Coyotes were in retreat mode and when Caps defenseman Dmitry Orlov drew a tripping penalty on David Moss with 6:23 remaining the Phone Booth was shaking in anticipation.
That’s when Troy Brouwer parked himself in the slot and had a wide open net to hit when Nicklas Backstrom’s rebound came right to his stick for the game-winner with 5:13 remaining.
“We know that we are at a point where our season is on the line every game,” Brouwer said. “That should be enough motivation for us and tonight it was.”
With the win the Caps ended a three-game losing streak and moved two points closer to the third-place New York Rangers in the Metropolitan Division.
It also sets the table for a mouth-watering home-and-home series against the first-place Pittsburgh Penguins that begins Monday night at VerizonCenter.
“We absolutely needed the win,” said Laich, who acknowledged he’s not 100 percent healthy. “Now we have a big challenge coming up with a home and home against a good team. We’ll be up for those two games.”
“Good rivalry games,” he said. “Games that the guys in here get up for and want to play their best hockey for. We need four points in the next two hockey games.”
Consider the gauntlet thrown down.