Tied in the third period, the Washington Capitals desperately needed a goal to put away the New York Islanders.
Who would it be? Given the team’s injury situation, the choices were slim. Alex Ovechkin was the most obvious candidate.
And the least likely? Donald Brashear, who scored his first goal of the season with 13:10 left to boost Washington to a 5-2 victory Thursday night.
Brashear, a rugged winger known more for his fighting than his skating, had gone 37 games without a goal before giving Washington a 3-2 lead. After teammate Karl Alzner drove the puck off the backboards, it bounded crazily toward the crease. Brashear then forced the puck into the net before goalie John MacDonald could smother it.
“It just bounced there and I went to the goal. It looked like a big piece of cheese to me,” said Brashear, whose last goal came on March 3.
“You’ve got to go to the net and bang one in,” Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau said. “That’s the kind of goal he’s going to score. He’s not going to go end-to-end.”
Eric Fehr added a power-play goal with 3:46 to go, and Nicklas Backstrom scored into an empty net with 50 seconds remaining.
Ovechkin had a goal and two assists, and Viktor Kozlov also scored for the Capitals, who responded positively to a scolding from Boudreau after their listless performance in a 5-3 loss to visiting Florida on Tuesday.
Washington was without several injured sharpshooters, including Alexander Semin, Sergei Fedorov, Mike Green and Tom Poti, but Ovechkin provided enough offense and leadership to carry the team before Brashear got his unlikely goal.
“Alex has got to be the one that stands up and says, ‘Get on my back and follow me,”’ Boudreau said. “He was dead serious tonight, and I think he made everybody else dead serious. They knew this was a business game. We had to redeem ourselves. You had to get this one at home.”
The Islanders, who played without injured goalie Rick DiPietro, center Nate Thompson and defenseman Radek Martinek, got goals from Mark Streit and Trent Hunter. But New York went 1-for-9 on the power play and wasted a 42-save performance by MacDonald.
“I didn’t see us pressuring like we’re accustomed to,” coach Scott Gordon said. “I didn’t see us playing with urgency like we had been. You see what happens when we don’t.”
MacDonald was magnificent in goal, but simply couldn’t cope with the onslaught of shots as the game wore on.
“They had a lot of chances. I thought they threw a lot of pucks on net, and they had a lot of quality shots,” he said. “When you start throwing pucks at the net, you have the tendency to get bounces, and that’s what happened on their third goal.”
After power-play goals by Ovechkin and Kozlov in a 76-second span provided Washington with a 2-0 lead, New York countered on a power-play tally by Streit near the end of the first period.
Early in the second period, Chris Campoli of the Islanders appeared to tie it with a long-range goal off a faceoff. But the score was disallowed because it deflected off the skate of linesman Tony Sericolo.
Later in the period, with the teams playing 4-on-4, Washington’s Keith Aucoin was denied by MacDonald on a breakaway. Aucoin had been recalled from Hershey earlier in the day after leading the AHL in scoring.
New York then pulled even when Washington’s Sami Lepisto fell down behind the Capitals net while trying to control the puck. Andy Sutton swooped in and flipped a quick pass to Hunter, whose team-high 11th goal beat Brent Johnson to tie it.
Notes: The Islanders were the only Eastern Conference team that Boudreau had not defeated. He’s 1-0-2 against New York. … Hunter (4 goals, three assists) has points in five of the last six games. … Ovechkin has 14 goals and 20 assists in 24 games.