Appearing in his 500th game with the Washington Capitals on Saturday afternoon, T.J. Oshie played as if it was his last. In the first period against the New York Rangers, the 36-year-old, who already had scored a power-play goal, desperately chased a loose puck near the boards. When he was beaten to it by Rangers defenseman Ryan Lindgren, Oshie finished the play with a savage hit. Lindgren crumpled to the ice, the Rangers’ bench erupted as no penalty was called, and forward Barclay Goodrow nodded at Oshie, who knew what was coming next.
Following a faceoff a few seconds later, Oshie dropped his gloves and scrapped as hard as he could, landing a few right hands on Goodrow, who is two inches taller and 15 pounds heavier.
“It’s great to have guys around that still answer the bell and stick up for themselves,” forward Tom Wilson said afterward, tracing the origins of Washington’s 6-3 win back to the grit of Oshie. To go with his fight, Oshie had two goals and an assist — giving him a “Gordie Howe hat trick” for the first time — as the Capitals snapped a six-game skid with an uplifting victory over a heated rival at Capital One Arena.
With uncertainty continuing to swirl around the franchise ahead of Friday’s trade deadline — Washington dealt defenseman Dmitry Orlov and forward Garnet Hathaway to the Boston Bruins on Thursday and could make more moves in the coming days — the Capitals responded with their most complete performance in weeks, which helped keep them in the playoff chase. They got stellar goaltending from Darcy Kuemper (23 saves) and an offensive awakening from a lineup that had produced just 10 goals in its previous six games, all regulation losses.
The Capitals had four goals in the second period alone Saturday — from Oshie, Wilson, Sonny Milano and Evgeny Kuznetsov — to chase Rangers goalie Igor Shesterkin, the reigning Vezina Trophy winner, after 40 minutes. Kuznetsov added another goal in the third off an assist from captain Alex Ovechkin.
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Oshie spearheaded that balanced attack. “You could see it in his strides and his purpose,” Coach Peter Laviolette said of Oshie, who switched to a shorter stick during the losing streak and now has used it to tip in a power-play goal from the slot in each of the past two games. After Washington gained a man advantage early in the first period Saturday, Oshie moved between the circles and waited for a shot from the point by defenseman Erik Gustafsson. When it came, he read the puck and deflected it with the shaft of his stick, then watched as it knuckled past Shesterkin to make it 1-0 at 4:25.
“You need your big players to step up,” Oshie said. “I get paid a lot of money to put offense up on the board and haven’t been doing it as of late, so felt good.”
After Goodrow tied the score at 8:00 with a tipped goal of his own, he challenged Oshie in an early-game scrap featuring both goal scorers. After Oshie’s hit, Lindgren had rushed down the tunnel to the dressing room. “Bad hit, dirty hit,” Rangers Coach Gerard Gallant said. “I like that hockey player — don’t get me wrong — but it’s a bad hit.”
Oshie dusted himself off after the fight and gave Washington a 2-1 lead at 3:16 of the second period, beating Shesterkin from the right circle after taking a pass from center Dylan Strome.
“He’s never taken a shift off,” Wilson said. “Boys rallied around it, and it was a good team effort.”
As Kuemper held the potent but scuffling Rangers at bay — this was their fourth straight loss — the floodgates opened in the second. After getting behind the New York defense at 7:05, Wilson scored his third goal in four games since his return from injury. At 12:52, Milano scored his first in 13 games following a mad scramble after Oshie, seeking a hat trick, hit the post. At 18:19, Kuznetsov gave the home crowd his signature bird celebration, which it hadn’t seen in a while, after scoring on a breakaway to make it 5-1.
Two Rangers goals in the third period couldn’t extinguish the relief in the Capitals’ dressing room. Laviolette entered the room and spoke of the personal milestones some of the players had hit. He congratulated forward Craig Smith, who debuted after joining the Capitals in the Bruins trade two days earlier. He noted that Kuznetsov had moved into 14th place for goals in franchise history.
“And with a monster game tonight, in his 500th game as a Capital, T.J. Oshie got his first career Gordie Howe,” Laviolette said, and the room erupted in cheers for the first time in two weeks. Around them, equipment managers packed up gear for the team’s trip to Buffalo for Sunday afternoon’s game against the Sabres, another of the six teams in the hunt for two Eastern Conference wild-card spots.
Oshie was handed a yellow fireman’s rope and a dynamometer that measures grip strength, baubles awarded to the player of the game after a win. It signifies that everyone is pulling in the right direction, and at least for a few hours Saturday, all of the Capitals were.
Here’s what else to know about the Capitals’ win:
In his first game with the Capitals, Smith skated on the second line with Nicklas Backstrom and Conor Sheary. Smith has familiarity with Laviolette from their time together with the Nashville Predators, and although he received a crash-course introduction to the Capitals’ system when he arrived Friday evening, Laviolette said Smith would be up to speed, given his experience facing Washington while with the Bruins. Smith, sporting No. 16, logged 11:22 of ice time and put one shot on goal.
Forward Marcus Johansson missed Saturday’s game with a non-covid illness, clearing room for Smith to join the lineup. Forward Aliaksei Protas, called up a day earlier from the Hershey Bears of the American League Hockey, was a healthy scratch.
Forward Anthony Mantha missed his second consecutive game with an upper-body injury suffered in a loss to the Detroit Red Wings on Tuesday. Mantha, who skated Friday, remains day-to-day.