Sanford keeps Capitals rolling
CAPITALS 6, DUCKS 4
Winger’s first NHL goal breaks a late tie
Zach Sanford had waited patiently for his first NHL goal, so it was fitting that as he fired a shot from the right faceoff circle, the puck bounced off Anaheim Ducks goaltender John Gibson and then momentarily paused short of the goal line before trickling over it.
“That was like slow motion for me there,” Sanford said. “Like, come on, get going, get going. But, yeah, it made it, which is good.”
Sanford threw both arms up, and the fans at Verizon Center mimicked him. Brett Connolly grabbed the puck as a keepsake for the rookie winger, but Sanford won’t have any trouble remembering the moment, a gamewinner late in the third period of a tie game.
Sanford’s shot lifted the Washington Capitals to a 6-4 win, and they tied an NHL record with an 11th straight game at home with at least five goals. The mark originally was set by the 1970-71 Boston Bruins.
“They didn’t really give us a choice but to score five goals after they tied it up,” Capitals forward Daniel Winnik said.
That the game-winner came from Sanford is a testament to these Capitals. Andre Burakovsky injured his hand Thursday, forcing Sanford into the lineup two days later. Plug and play. The fill-in scored, and Washington rolled on.
“In between the second and
third [periods], I told myself I wanted to shoot a little more,” Sanford said. “There was a couple chances I passed up, and I got the shot off, and it went in.”
The Capitals signed Sanford after his sophomore season at Boston College, and he made the opening night roster out of training camp. He had played in 20 NHL games and tallied just one assist, and he was sent down to Washington’s American Hockey League affiliate in late November. Sanford was recalled earlier this week, and the injury to Burakovsky, who is expected to be out until at least mid-March, created an opportunity for Sanford to wedge himself back into the lineup on a more consistent basis.
Capitals Coach Barry Trotz said Sanford may continue to go between the NHL and AHL, but he has seen Sanford get progressively more comfortable with each stint in Washington, taking another step with his first goal Saturday.
“I think it’s big,” Trotz said. “Especially [because] this is Zach’s 21st game . . . you start to dwell on that more than you need to. As I said to Zach when he was coming off the ice, ‘Don’t play tentative. Don’t play safe. Go for it.’ ”
With just one game standing between the Capitals and their five-day bye week, Trotz told his players to go ahead and pack their bags Friday. He wanted all distractions out of the way be- fore Saturday’s game, the players’ last bit of work before heading off on various vacations. The Capitals seemed to pack it in a bit early against Anaheim, surrendering a three-goal lead before Sanford’s game-winner.
After the Capitals took a 3-0 lead in the first period, a Jakob Silfverberg goal for Anaheim chipped away at the deficit 7:16 into the second period, and then the Ducks got a power play roughly three minutes later. But rather than make it a one-goal game on the man-advantage, Anaheim lost ground. Winnik pounced on a loose puck, then raced down the ice, recognizing a tired power-play unit. He beat Gibson from the left faceoff circle to make it 4-1 with 7:42 left in the second period.
“You’re sitting there at 4-1 halfway through the game, and I’m sure some of us were having images of how we’re going to be on a beach in 24 hours,” Winnik said. “Maybe that’s why it slipped away. I don’t know.”
Anaheim’s Hampus Lindholm made it a two-goal game late in the second period, and Ryan Kesler scored 9:38 into the third. A Ryan Getzlaf breakaway tied the game for Anaheim with 8:12 left. Off an offensive-zone draw for the Capitals, Ducks defenseman Cam Fowler got the puck behind the goal line and sprung Getzlaf with a stretch pass down the middle of the ice. That set the stage for Sanford’s heroics.
“That was a pretty cool first one, to get it at the end there,” Sanford said. “The reaction of all the guys on the bench and on the ice made it awesome. They were so happy for me. They knew I was waiting for it, and to finally get it was great.”
Washington’s Zach Sanford scored his first NHL goal, which came in his 21st game.
Ducks defenseman Hampus Lindholm scores on Braden Holtby, who still picked up a win for the Caps.