Carl­son’s three as­sists key 5th straight vic­tory

Baltimore Sun Sunday - - FRONT PAGE -

NEW YORK – Wash­ing­ton Cap­i­tals de­fense­man John Carl­son skated up to the loose puck in the neu­tral zone and con­tin­ued on across the blue line. He was flanked by a pair of New York Rangers try­ing to rip the puck away from him, but Carl­son found the win­dow, push­ing the puck through the space be­tween Ryan Strome’s skates and his stick. Carl­son hit Brett Con­nolly in stride, and Con­nolly’s one­timer lifted the Cap­i­tals to a late lead.

Wash­ing­ton held on for a 5-3 win over New York, ex­tend­ing the team’s sea­son-best win­ning streak to five games in large part thanks to Carl­son’s three-as­sist ef­fort. Play­ing his sec­ond game in as many days, Carl­son fin­ished with a team-high 24:20 ice time, and he was on the ice for four of the Cap­i­tals’ goals while not be­ing scored on all game.

“This was prob­a­bly one of his stronger back-to-backs that I could re­mem­ber in the last cou­ple years, if I was be­ing com­pletely hon­est about that,” Cap­i­tals coach Todd Reirden said. “When he plays that amount of min­utes, he’s not a small guy, so it’s not easy to play these back-to-backs. That’s one of his best back-to-backs he’s had since I’ve been here.”

Fit­tingly, this is the first back-to­back set that Wash­ing­ton has won both games this sea­son. As the Cap­i­tals have steadily ad­dressed each of their early-sea­son is­sues that per­sisted through the first quar­ter of the sea­son, back-to-back sit­u­a­tions were the last buga­boo for the team.

“We’re start­ing to get that feel­ing again through our room,” Con­nolly said. “It’s start­ing to get there like we had to­wards the end of last year. That’s what we’re work­ing to­wards.”

Just 31 sec­onds after the Rangers jumped out to a two-goal lead in the sec­ond pe­riod, the Cap­i­tals started to chip away at it. Cen­ter Nic Dowd tapped his stick on the ice as he went to the front of the net with no one guard­ing him, and Carl­son obliged his ask for the puck. Carl­son’s shot from the point was tipped by Dowd in front for Wash­ing­ton’s first goal of the game 10:10 into the sec­ond pe­riod.

Then, at the 16:27 mark, speedy winger Jakub Vrana skated past Brett How­den in a race to the puck. With no one in front of him but the goal­tender, Vrana drove the net and lifted a back­hand over Alexan­dar Ge­orgiev to tie the game. That’s Vrana’s sixth goal of the sea­son, putting him on pace to im­prove on his rookie cam­paign, which saw him score 13 goals with 14 as­sists last sea­son. Vrana has two goals and four as­sists in his past seven games.

Cap­tain Alex Ovechkin capped a strong pe­riod with the go-ahead goal in the fi­nal minute be­fore in­ter­mis­sion. Po­si­tioned di­rectly in front of the net, Ovechkin redi­rected Carl­son’s cen­ter­ing pass for his 17th goal of the sea­son, tied for the league lead, and his fifth goal in the past five games.

Strome tied the game once more with a wrap­around goal 5:30 into the third pe­riod. But Carl­son’s pass to Con­nolly re­stored Wash­ing­ton’s lead with 6:24 left to play.

“He cov­ers so much ice that he’s al­most like an­other for­ward out there,” Con­nolly said. “It’s fun when you’re out there with him and he’s join­ing the rush. It seems like we got four for­wards out there on that rush.”

The Cap­i­tals looked like a team that had played less than 24 hours ear­lier to start the game. The Rangers were called for two in­frac­tions in the first 10 min­utes, but the Cap­i­tals man­aged just one shot on goal on those power plays. While the team has been able to win with­out in­jured top cen­ter Evgeny Kuznetsov and right wing T.J. Oshie, those play­ers are ar­guably missed most on the man-ad­van­tage.

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