Ex­tra time earns Co­p­ley his first win

Rookie goalie lifts Wash­ing­ton in last game of western swing

Baltimore Sun Sunday - - FRONT PAGE -

CAL­GARY, AL­BERTA — Wash­ing­ton Cap­i­tals goal­tender Pheonix Co­p­ley tried to stay calm, push­ing away any fleet­ing nerves as the shootout moved to the fourth round Sat­ur­day against the Cal­gary Flames at the Sad­dle­dome.

The 26-year-old backup, who was seek­ing the first win of his NHL ca­reer in his third ca­reer start, had been part of a sim­u­lated shootout at Wash­ing­ton’s prac­tice the pre­vi­ous day. He was pre­pared; he just had to ex­e­cute.

As Flames wing Johnny Gau­dreau un­leashed a hard shot, Co­p­ley stayed tall and turned it aside. Mo­ments later, Cap­i­tals for­ward Nick­las Back­strom beat Flames goal­tender Mike Smith, se­cur­ing a 4-3 win, and the Cap­i­tals jumped over the boards to mob Co­p­ley at midice.

The vic­tory was the se­cond in three games for the Cap­i­tals (5-3-2), con­clud­ing their western Canada swing. Cap­i­tals for­ward Evgeny Kuznetsov scored in the se­cond round of the shootout, then was matched by Flames cen­ter Sean Mon­a­han.

“It is a spe­cial mo­ment for your team and for a guy like Pheonix that has re­ally paid his dues,” coach Todd Reirden said. “I tell you, our guys couldn’t have been any hap­pier for him tonight. That was awe­some.”

The Flames (5-5-1), com­ing off a 9-1 loss to the Pitts­burgh Pen­guins, got a late equal­izer to force over­time when for­ward Matthew Tkachuk beat Co­p­ley with 1:27 re­main­ing in reg­u­la­tion. The Cap­i­tals were then called for a de­lay of game, forc­ing not only the Wash­ing­ton penalty kill unit to hold things down in reg­u­la­tion and early in the over­time but Co­p­ley as well.

“Yeah, it feels good,” Co­p­ley said. “It’s the first one, so it’s al­ways nice to get it out of the way. And, yeah, I’m happy to get the two points. “I’ll re­mem­ber this one for a while.” The Cap­i­tals, com­ing off a 4-1 loss to the Ed­mon­ton Oil­ers on Thurs­day, shifted some lines around against the Flames. For­ward Jakub Vrana moved to the top line with Kuznetsov and cap­tain Alex Ovechkin. For­ward An­dre Bu­rakovsky joined the line of Back­strom and T.J. Oshie.

The ad­just­ments paid early div­i­dends. Vrana started the scor­ing at 9:28 in the first pe­riod when Kuznetsov found him on a mini-break for his third goal of the sea­son. Oshie scored on a power play five min­utes later, his first of the sea­son on the man ad­van­tage. The Cap­i­tals came in scor­ing on a league-best 37.5 per­cent of their power plays, and Oshie’s tally was their 13th.

“We knew it was go­ing to be a des­per­ate team com­ing out of the gate af­ter Cal­gary hav­ing a tough loss a cou­ple nights ago, and I loved our start,” Reirden said.

Co­p­ley, mak­ing his se­cond start with the Cap­i­tals, made 27 saves. Reirden said the team went into the trip with Co­p­ley in mind to start against the Flames, try­ing to get out of start­ing him only on the se­cond half of back-to-back games.

Last sea­son, Wash­ing­ton ben­e­fited from hav­ing two tested goal­tenders on the ros­ter, with both starter Braden Holtby and Philipp Grubauer. Holtby played in 54 games last sea­son and all but one in the Stan­ley Cup play­offs. Grubauer was traded to the Colorado Avalanche over the sum­mer.

“Cer­tainly ev­ery time I get in there I want to be smart, and I just try to stay sharp in prac­tice,” Co­p­ley said. “Any­time I get the chance to play, I want to give the guys the best chance to win. I’m just happy for the win and happy that we won as a team.” twit­ter.com/Sa­man­thaJPell

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