Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images
With another season of Washington Capitals hockey in the books, 2021-22 brought some lows but numerous highs. Before putting it behind us, NoVa Caps counts down the top 10 Capitals games of the season.
10. 5-4 W at Calgary Flames (3/8)
After the red-hot Flames entered the game 17-3-1 in their last 21 games and opened up a 2-0 lead in the second period, left-wings Conor Sheary and Alex Ovechkin each struck to tie it up. The Flames took the lead again before left-wing Anthony Mantha (who scored his first goal in his third game back from shoulder surgery which caused him to miss 45 games), center Nic Dowd, and Ovechkin (who tied Jaromir Jagr with his 766th career NHL goal) scored for three unanswered Capitals goals. The Flames added one late but the Capitals would hang on to win. Goaltender Vitek Vanecek made 31 saves.
9. 6-3 W at Pittsburgh Penguins (4/9)
Trailing the Penguins by six points for third place in the Metropolitan Division with two games in hand entering this game, the Capitals overcame 1-0 and 3-2 deficits in the first period. They scored four unanswered goals to win 6-3, including markers from Ovechkin and right-wing Tom Wilson. Goaltender Ilya Samsonov made 29 stops.
8. 4-3 SOW at Carolina Hurricanes (3/18)
2:16 after the Hurricanes opened up the scoring in the first period, center Evgeny Kuznetsov and defenseman John Carlson both found the back of the net 3:13 apart to give the Capitals the lead halfway through the opening frame. The Hurricanes scored twice before Ovechkin did off of an offensive zone faceoff to tie it with 5:04 left in regulation. Ovechkin won a three-round shootout to a chorus of boos for the Capitals’ third win in three games over Carolina this season. Samsonov earned 17 saves.
7. 5-0 W at Dallas Stars (1/28)
Entering this game 3-6-2 in their past 11 contests, the Capitals got a break off of a disallowed Stars goal in the opening two minutes before pouring it on in a three-goal first period, including goals from Wilson and Carlson. Center Nicklas Backstrom joined the party in the second period and got 2018 Stanley Cup Champion goaltender Braden Holtby pulled after the Capitals dented him for five goals on 27 shots in his first game against the team since leaving Washington as an unrestricted free agent in 2020. Vanecek pitched 29 saves in one of the team’s most complete wins of the season. The Stars retired Sergei Zubov’s No. 56 prior to the game.
6. 4-3 SOW vs. New York Islanders (3/15)
Mantha opened the scoring in the first but the Islanders scored twice in the second to take a 2-1 lead into the third period. Left-wing Axel Jonsson-Fjallby tied it in front off of a cross-ice pass 10:13 in for his first career NHL goal. Ovechkin struck off of an offensive zone draw with 4:58 left to pull ahead of Jagr on the NHL’s all-time goal-scoring list and make it 3-2 Capitals. The Islanders tied it late but the Capitals would prevail in an eight-round shootout, where Mantha got the winner. Vanecek posted 29 saves on a historic night at Capital One Arena.
5. 4-2 W vs. Boston Bruins (4/10)
Going into this game seven points behind the Bruins for the first wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference a day after a dominant win in Pittsburgh, Carlson blasted one to open the scoring in the second period. The Bruins answered with two goals in a minute before Wilson tied it near the end of the stanza. Center Lars Eller got a late bounce in the third to give the Capitals the lead. Ovechkin added salt in the wound with his 45th of the season into an empty net and Vanecek stood tall with 28 saves in a huge win to give the Capitals something to play for after it had appeared that they would be stuck in the second wild-card spot for months.
4. 4-2 W at Florida Panthers – Round One, Game One (5/3)
Entering the NHL’s most hostile building (the Panthers were an NHL-best 34-7-0 at home during the regular season) for Game 1 of the first round, Wilson scored the first goal of the series on the power play just 3:47 in. The Panthers took a 2-1 lead into the third period before Kuznetsov scored on a breakaway and right-wing T.J. Oshie drove to the net to finish center Nicklas Backstrom’s feed from up top 2:23 later to put Washington on top. Eller added an empty netter to give the Presidents’ Trophy winners a wake-up call. Vanecek made 30 saves in a solid showing by the Capitals.
3. 4-0 W vs. Hurricanes (3/3)
Heading into this one as losers of three straight in regulation and 8-12-2 since the New Year, the Capitals came out flying after Kuznetsov scored in the first period, defenseman Martin Fehervary buried a three-way passing play in the second, and Ovechkin struck on his patented one-timer from the left dot to open up a 3-0 lead in the second period against the Metropolitan Division leaders. Defenseman Dmitry Orlov added a late tally with 58 seconds to go to extend the lead to 4-0. Vanecek made 36 saves in the shutout, arguably the best game he has played in his NHL career so far.
2. 3-2 W at Colorado Avalanche (4/18)
After the league-leading Avalanche won their ninth straight game, right-wing Garnet Hathaway got on the board first with a wrister down the left wing that beat goaltender Darcy Kuemper early. The Avalanche tied it later in the first before Ovechkin notched his 48th of the season at the left post on the power play. Colorado evened the score once more before right-wing Marcus Johansson finished off a pass from Sheary, who stole the puck at the offensive blue line, to put the Capitals back on top with 9:14 left. Samsonov made 24 saves in arguably the team’s best 60-minute effort of the regular season. The Avalanche also entered the game with a league-best 31-4-3 home record.
1. 6-1 W vs. Panthers – Round One, Game Three (5/7)
The Panthers tied the first-round Stanley Cup Playoff series with a 5-1 win in Game 2 and opened the scoring just 2:45 into Game 3. That was before the Capitals tied it on a deflection in front from Oshie on the power play prior to the end to the first. In the second, Johansson buried one at the right post to give the Capitals the lead and set up another from the goal-line when defenseman Trevor Van Riemsdyk snapped one to the blocker side to ensure that the Capitals head into the second intermission with a 3-1 lead. After a quiet first-half of the third, Ovechkin blasted one from his office after Sheary laid a cross-ice feed from the right half-wall on the power play. Carlson added an empty netter before Hathaway finished off a a three-way passing play at the crease in a dominant performance to take a 2-1 series lead. Samsonov finished with 29 saves in a 6-1 victory.
By Harrison Brown