San­ford keeps Cap­i­tals rolling

CAP­I­TALS 6, DUCKS 4

The Washington Post Sunday - - SPORTS - BY IS­ABELLE KHURSHUDYAN

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.”

NICK WASS/ASSOCIATED PRESS

Wash­ing­ton’s Zach San­ford scored his first NHL goal, which came in his 21st game.

NICK WASS/ASSOCIATED PRESS

Ducks de­fense­man Ham­pus Lind­holm scores on Braden Holtby, who still picked up a win for the Caps.

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