After 20 minutes of play at Verizon Center, the Capitals looked like a beaten bunch, down 3-0 to one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference, the Boston Bruins.
Washington allowed a penalty-shot goal, a power-play goal and an even-strength goal in the first 18:30 of play, and the Bruins -- who had lost just five of their first 19 games and were 9-0-0 this season when scoring first -- were full in control of the first rematch of last year's playoff series. Following an ugly display last Wednesday in Philadelphia where they never recovered from an early deficit, it seemed like a tall task for Washington to get a critical two points.
But thanks to two of their rookies -- one playing his first-ever NHL game -- as well as a player that would likely not have been in the lineup if not for illness, and a reclamation project from the Finnish league, Washington authored a improbable rally, beating the Bruins 4-3 in overtime at Verizon Center.
"It's great to see," Eric Fehr, who scored the game-winner, said of the younger additions to the roster. "The younger guys come up and do so well, they were playing with great poise today.
"It's not easy to play against the Boston Bruins, one of more physical teams in the league, and to make some of the plays they did and hang in there, some of those guys coming down on them, it shows a lot, a lot of great potential."
Down by three early in the second period thanks to a penalty shot goal by Brad Marchand, a tally by Zdeno Chara and a Dougie Hamilton power-play strike, coach Adam Oates said he told his team he didn't feel the game was lost.
"If you're going to get back, it's going to take 40 minutes. Boston isn't going to give us any easy ones, so don't try to win it in five minutes," the former Bruins and Capitals star said afterward. "You've got to chip away and play."
And, the newest Capital, Steve Oleksy, playing in his first-ever NHL game less than 24 hours after his recall from the AHL's Hershey Bears, helped start a comeback with a drive to the net, as the rebound was picked up by Alex Ovechkin and fed to Mike Ribeiro for Washington's first goal 5:46 into the second to give Washington some much-needed life.
"One of our keys today was just getting pucks to the net," the Michigan native said. "It came back to me kind of bouncing there, I just wanted to get it towards the net. Obviously, guys with skill like Alex made a great play to knock it down and slide it over to Ribs. He was wide open for the tap in."
Tomas Kundratek, who was called up from Hershey early in the season after an injury to Jack Hillen in January, then scored his first NHL goal in a shot through traffic to cut the deficit to 3-2.
"I'm really happy," the defenseman said. "It was kind of an ugly one, but it counts, so I'm really happy for it. ... I definitely celebrated like winning goal in the playoffs. It's the first one, and I'll remember it for the rest of my life."
In the third period, the two teams traded chances, but Capitals netminder Braden Holtby and Bruins goaltender Tuukka Rask were up to the task, keeping the score a one-goal Boston game. But with 6:05 left, Wojtek Wolski -- who was a healthy scratch Saturday and wouldn't have skated had the Capitals leading goal-scorer Troy Brouwer not fallen to illness -- scored his first goal in more than a month to earn the Capitals at least one valuable standings point.
"I was happy to get the goal, and just kind of get back into it," Wolski said. "It's been a struggle of late, been trying to work hard and keep going."
In overtime, Fehr delivered the game-winner just 37 seconds into the extra session with a nifty tally, splitting through the Bruins' defense and lifting the puck over Rask.
"I kind of blacked out for a bit there, but saw the puck on my stick close to the net, I saw he was leaning my way and tried to chip it over," Fehr said.
Down the hall in the Bruins' locker room, the visitors weren't too happy with the last two-plus periods of play and the lost point after being staked to a three-goal lead.
"We lost the game, no excuse," Chara said. "It was not good enough of a 60-minute effort ... with the schedule we have, obviously we can't spend too long on this game, but at the same time, we need to avoid the mistakes we were making out there."
"We were up by three goals and were asleep in the second and gave up a couple of unnecessary goals," Rask said. "Then in the third, another softie on me, and then in the overtime, I don't know what happened."
While the Bruins suffered just their sixth setback of the season, the Capitals have quietly won seven of their last 10 and are starting to look more like a playoff-contending club than the disjointed entry they were the first few weeks of the season.
"We didn't give up at all today," Fehr said. "We know how important it is to string some wins together, to come back against a team that good means a lot."
And for Oleksy, whose parents drove 11 hours from Michigan to watch their son, his first NHL game was quite a memorable one.
"It was unbelievable, especially the atmosphere in this building, Capitals fans are second to none, an OT thriller, can't ask for a better first game," he said with a smile.