“I think we were trying too hard. Sometimes you want to just do things too well [and] out of the system, and when you try to do that stuff, a team is going to beat you. And that’s exactly what they did."
Several variations of the statement above have been uttered by the Washington Capitals through the first third of the 2013 season, but it never crossed their lips Saturday. It was actually made by New Jersey Devils forward Steve Bernier as Washington finally turned the tables in the third period of its 5-1 victory.
After a solid first 39 minutes of hockey earned the Capitals a 1-0 lead on a blistering Alex Ovechkin one-timer, the Devils broke through with 38 seconds remaining in the second period when Ilya Kovalchuk used John Erskine as a screen and rifled a wrister past Braden Holtby.
Late goals like Kovalchuk's can easily swing momentum, but during the second intermission, the Capitals preached sticking to head coach Adam Oates' system instead of deviating from it. Washington continued to dump pucks into the offensive zone and force turnovers instead of forcing plays from the blueline. The Capitals' patience was eventually rewarded with their biggest offensive outburst in one period this season; they scored four unanswered goals-- two power play goals, an even-strength goal and a shorthanded goal -- on 11 shots, punctuated by Ovechkin's first hat trick since Jan. 22, 2011.
"We knew that in the past two games that we've played against them, we've had a lot of good opportunities," forward Troy Brouwer said. "We've been able to create a lot of good chances. We didn't want to try and take chances in a 1-1 game and try and open it up for them, so we got a good break off a good rush by Ovi, which right away, gave us a lot of life. We just wanted to stick with it and continue to finish out the game because our biggest problem has been finishing off teams."
Brouwer called Saturday's third period "one of our more productive periods all year long" and it could not have come at a more opportune time. Two regulation losses after a three-game winning streak last week had dropped the Capitals back into the NHL basement, so there was a palpable sense of desperation within their locker room during the second intermission.
"We felt we were robbed of a couple points two nights ago," Brouwer added. "We weren't going to be denied tonight and you saw it with the desperation and the intensity in the third period."
Yet, perhaps just as important as desperation and intensity was stick-to-itiveness.
"We stayed with it," forward Mike Ribeiro said. "We didn't drop our arms or quit...when they scored that goal at the end of the [second] period. We just came out and did the same thing we had to do and stuck with the game plan. Most of the time, the teams that stick with the game plan the longest will win games."
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