Extra time earns Copley his first win
Rookie goalie lifts Washington in last game of western swing
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