The Washington Capitals entered Pepsi Arena’s visitor’s locker room down 2-0 at intermission. The Caps, who had given up 12 goals combined in consecutive losses to the Flyers and Islanders, were still scuffling and after 20 minutes of play, looked primed to be blown out again.
And that’s when, according to the players, one of their soft-spoken leaders addressed the room: alternate captain Nicklas Backstrom.
“Our first period looked like the last couple of games we have been playing. We knew it wasn’t good enough,” Tom Wilson said. “We had the hard conversation at intermission. We wanted to bounce back and we knew it wasn’t good enough.”
“When he talks, everyone listens,” Braden Holtby said of Backstrom. “He doesn’t say much all the time, I think that’s part of why it means so much when he does. When he says something, you know it’s time to listen. That’s why he’s been our backbone forever. That’s why everyone follows him.”
The players were careful about revealing intimate details about what was said, but it made a big difference.
“Not really a lot of message,” TJ Oshie added. “Nick and [Alex Ovechkin] said a couple words. I mentioned something. Just something that I think we needed to hear. The other guys went out and we responded up and down the lineup.”
The Capitals scored three unanswered goals in the second and third periods, beating one of the best teams in the NHL in the process. Oshie scored the game-winning goal with 2:04 left, deflecting a shot from the point by Nick Jensen after the Capitals defenseman did a stutter step to give himself more time for a shot.
“It was not acceptable. With the way we’ve been playing lately, too. It was not acceptable,” Backstrom said to The Athletic’s Tarik El-Bashir. “I think we’ve been talking about details and stuff like that, and we go out in the first period and we’re not even there. I think in this league you have to be aware of what you’re doing out there at all times. There’s no easy games. There’s no easy points. I think we bounced back pretty good after that and worked ourselves into the game.”
Alex Ovechkin rewarded Garnet Hathaway with the Capitals Hard Hat Award after the game for putting his body on the line several times.
Important win for us.
— Washington Capitals (@Capitals) February 14, 2020
“Guys were blocking shots,” Oshie said. “When you see guys blocking shots it means we’re playing from the inside defensively which we haven’t been lately. Guys are in it. Guys are focused and willing to lay their body on the line.”
“One of things we talked about the Philly game was you never know when it’s going to turn around,” Holtby said. “You just keep fighting for some sort of save to turn things around. My mentality was the first was more a continuation of the last little bit but we were fighting to get past that. I thought in the second we came out and got back to our identity.”
Holtby added, “It’s a big win for us to get out of this funk and get us rolling.
Capitals head coach Todd Reirden admitted that his team was “in the middle of a process here and going through a rough patch,” but it was ultimately the “players’ commitment that they made tonight, and overall just sticking together again through adversity” which turned things around.
He also praised Backstrom for leading the team to victory.
“I thought Nick was outstanding tonight,” Reirden said. “Something we’ve talked about is taking control of the room’ and what’s said in there is said in there. It shows his leadership. He’s not a guy that’s a rah-rah guy and is not saying something every time. So when he does, I think it really shows a sign of our team turning the corner and our leaders stepping up in situations like that. That’s why we’re so fortunate to have a player that is so talented in different ways like Nick Backstrom. He’s still somehow underrated in the league, but a phenomenal teammate to his fellow players and a great hockey player.
Headline photo courtesy of the @Capitals